What People in Utah Should Know about Schizophrenia

What People in Utah Should Know about Schizophrenia

Schizophrenia, also known as psychotic disorder, is a mental illness characterized by delusions, hallucinations, paranoia, disorganized thoughts, erratic speech, agitation, lack of facial expression and/or extreme apathy. Beyond the definition and a list of symptoms, however, there are several things to know about this disorder that can help you better respond to the symptoms and behaviors associated with schizophrenia in Utah.

Biological and Evolutionary Factors

Most people are at least vaguely familiar with the idea that there’s a genetic component to schizophrenia, and family history is, indeed, a risk factor. But there’s also a further line of thought that suggests psychosis has been a part of the human race ever since there’s been a human race. What’s the evidence? Well, one thing particular to psychotic disorder is the stability of the prevalence rates. Ever since researchers have described, categorized, and measured the disorder, this prevalence has consistently hovered around an average of just under 1%.

And while animals have behavioral issues that mimic a wide range of mental disorders, language and social barriers make it difficult to even conceptualize what a clinical diagnosis of schizophrenia would look like in a dog or cat. Moreover, there are huge changes throughout the schizophrenic brain—including enlarged fluid-filled ventricles and glutamate receptor disruption—that suggest our unique brain development and social-linguistic capacities may be directly connected to the underlying causes of this mental illness. Some researchers have even begun to identify the specific genes that increase risk of schizophrenia.

It’s a cruel irony that the underlying nature and rates of schizophrenia may be a side effect of human’s unique capacity for language, while the subjective experience of the disorder disrupts the individual’s sense of social belonging. But it’s also something worth remembering when we feel tempted to condemn the individual who has little, if any, control over their thought patterns and sensory experience.

Environmental and Developmental Factors

There are many causes of schizophrenia, and genes alone do not determine the emergence of psychotic disorder. Especially when it occurs during childhood development, the presence of some exacerbating factor (virus, malnutrition, substance use, head injury, trauma) is thought to activate the potential for schizophrenia. Epigenetics—the interplay between genes and environment—still allows for a large amount of pure chance. So, while basic caregiving is enormously important in a child’s development, parents should avoid irrationally blaming themselves. Often, parents can “do everything right” and still have a child that develops psychosis.

Local, Cultural Factors in Utah

Even apart from these genetic and environmental factors, the schizophrenic mind is still, in some ways, a product of its culture. It’s one thing to know that psychotic disorder involves paranoia, delusions, and/or hallucinations. But these symptoms are also filled with content pulled from one’s everyday experience. Both LDS and non-LDS folk recognize the state’s unique religious, political, and cultural heritage. It’s not uncommon for someone’s paranoia to be fueled by some of Utah’s more extreme mistrust of civil authorities.

Alternately, one’s delusions and hallucinations that take on a religious symbolism that is particularly agonizing for the person and his or her loved ones. Schizophrenia can present with a range of symptoms. But for some, the experience is not unlike living out one’s dreams and nightmares in real life. And so, while an afflicted person may behave in ways that are extremely odd and/or offensive, we should imagine being judged by the content of our own dreams and nightmares before we start casting aspersions in return.

Think Someone in Utah has Schizophrenia?

Often, the early symptoms of schizophrenia—disorganized thoughts, erratic speech, anxiety and paranoia—may be difficult to distinguish from other mental disorders. Only a qualified mental health professional can make a clinical diagnosis. Yet, if you or someone you know is experiencing any of these disturbing and/or disruptive symptoms, it’s important to talk to a mental health provider as soon as possible.

Marcus Pickett

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