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Recognizing the Warning Signs of Schizophrenia: What to Know

For many people who have complex mental illnesses, the gap between the day their symptoms start and the day they begin treatment can be several years. Being able to recognize the warning signs of schizophrenia can help you get your loved one the care they need with minimal delay.

What Is Schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia is a complex, oft-misunderstood mental health disorder that is characterized by impairments in a person’s ability to perceive their environment and communicate with others.

As defined in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), the criteria for a schizophrenia diagnosis include experiencing two or more of the following types of symptoms (at least one of which must be one of the first three listed below):

  1. Hallucinations: Perceptions involving one or more of the five senses that do not have an external stimulus
  2. Delusions: Rigidly held beliefs that the individual will not abandon, even though they have no basis in reality or are easily disproven
  3. Disorganized speech: Difficulty communicating one’s thoughts in a comprehensible or logical manner
  4. Grossly disorganized or catatonic behavior: Acting in an immature, agitated, or otherwise abnormal manner, which may include bizarre postures or a general lack of responsiveness
  5. Negative symptoms: Absence of emotional expressiveness and little to no interest in self-motivated purposeful activities

To be accurately diagnosed with schizophrenia, a person must experience persistent symptoms for at least six months (though there may be times during this period when the individual doesn’t have any symptoms). 

These symptoms will be severe enough to cause diminished functioning in one or more important areas of life, such as work, self-care, school, or interpersonal relationships.

Warning Signs of Schizophrenia

The impact of schizophrenia can vary from person to person depending on a variety of individual factors, such as their age and developmental level, the type and intensity of their symptoms, and if they have any co-occurring mental health concerns.

Given these caveats, common warning signs of schizophrenia among adults include:

  • Significant changes in personality or behavior: This warning sign isn’t limited to schizophrenia, as dramatic changes can signal the onset of myriad mental and behavioral health concerns. Personality and behavior changes can often be among the earliest indications that your loved one is struggling, so don’t ignore these signs.
  • Communication problems: These can include responding to questions with unrelated statements, rapidly jumping from topic to topic with no logical progression, or using words because of their sound or cadence instead of the meaning they convey. 
  • Sudden drop in quality of work: Whether in school or at a job, a precipitous decline in performance for no apparent reason can be a sign that your loved one is having problems with motivation or cognition – both of which could be due to developing schizophrenia.
  • Odd statements and beliefs: This can indicate that they have begun to develop delusions. For example, someone who experiences delusions may believe that they are being spied on or conspired against, are in a relationship with a famous person who they’ve never actually met, or have some type of amazing talent or magical powers. 
  • Insufficient self-care: If a loved one has begun to neglect their grooming, appearance, and/or hygiene, this could indicate that they are experiencing cognitive challenges or are in the midst of a mental health crisis.
  • Flat affect: This can include speaking in a monotone voice, using few to no facial expressions, and being unable to express their emotions either verbally or nonverbally.
  • Withdrawal and isolation: Again, these behaviors are not unique to schizophrenia, but they can indicate that a person has begun to develop negative symptoms, which include a lack of interest in interacting with other people.

It’s important to note that none of these signs are definitive proof that someone has developed schizophrenia or any other mental health concern. But someone who exhibits any or all of them may be in crisis, and they should be evaluated by a qualified healthcare provider.

The only way to be certain what type of challenge your loved one is facing is to schedule an assessment for them. The professional who evaluates them can, if necessary, provide a diagnosis and recommend appropriate treatment options.

How to Help Someone Who Has Schizophrenia

It can be difficult to determine how you should respond when someone that you care about begins to exhibit the warning signs of schizophrenia, or when they are diagnosed with this condition. 

You will understandably be concerned about their well-being, but you may not know how to help. While you can’t cure your loved one, you can continue to play an important role in their life. Here are some tips:

  • Educate yourself about schizophrenia: The more you learn about the symptoms and effects of this disorder, the better you will be able to understand what your loved one has been experiencing.
  • Be consistent: Receiving a diagnosis doesn’t mean that your loved one is suddenly a different person. They may be afraid, confused, or frustrated – but they’re still the same person they’ve always been. You don’t have to make drastic changes in how you treat them. More than ever, they may rely on (and appreciate) your consistency.
  • Be available: Let your loved one know that you are always available to talk to them about their mental health struggles, whenever the time is right for them. Don’t push the topic, but don’t shy away from it, either. This is another way to demonstrate to your loved one that your opinion of them hasn’t changed simply because they received a certain mental health diagnosis.
  • Participate in treatment: Many treatment centers offer family therapy and other family support services. If your loved one’s provider hosts these types of events, and if you’re invited to attend, be sure to take part in them. These can be excellent opportunities to process your experiences and learn how to best support your loved one.
  • Talk to a professional: Caring for someone who has schizophrenia can be a stressful experience – and you can’t offer maximum support if you are ignoring your own mental health needs. Also, remember that you don’t have to wait until you hit a crisis point before you can benefit from speaking with a therapist, counselor, or other trained professional.

Learn More About Schizophrenia Treatment in Atlanta

Peachtree Wellness Solutions offers life-affirming residential and outpatient care for adults who have been living with schizophrenia and other mental illnesses. 

Our center in Atlanta, Georgia, is a safe and welcoming place where you or your loved one can receive personalized services from a team of skilled and compassionate professionals. We understand the many challenges faced by individuals who have schizophrenia, and we are committed to developing the focused solutions that can help each patient achieve improved health and better overall quality of life.

To learn more about schizophrenia treatment at Peachtree Wellness Solutions, or to schedule a free assessment, please visit our Admissions page or call us today.