What is schizophrenia?
Schizophrenia is a major mental illness that affects how the brain processes information. Research on schizophrenia and emotions has revealed that people with schizophrenia lack the ability to recognize and express emotion.
One of the most debilitating and unrelenting of all major mental illnesses is schizophrenia. It usually appears between the ages of 16 and 30 in those at risk. So unfortunately it affects people during their most productive years. If it is not treated, schizophrenia can have a damaging effect on everyone around them, from friends and family to their community. Much effort must be put into play to understand this illness, and how those affected process thoughts and emotions.
Schizophrenia is a major mental illness. It affects how the brain processes information. Those affected usually experience psychosis, which means it is difficult for them to process emotions, think clearly, and know what is real and not real. The affected can sometimes see or hear things that are not there, known as hallucinations. Or, they may have ideas that are not true or abnormal, known as delusions. Those who experience psychosis can feel the need to isolate themselves. They may be irritable or depressed and can have problems interpreting others’ emotions.
Schizophrenia affects over 2 million adult women and men in America annually. This is about 1 out of 100 people worldwide. Researchers who study the disease evaluate adults who have a schizophrenia diagnosis, then investigate patient records from the present then work backward to pinpoint past emotional deficits.
Symptoms of schizophrenia
Symptoms of schizophrenia can include:
- Problems with thinking clearly
- Unusual speech and thinking
- Having trouble making decisions and making plans
- Thoughts of suicide
- Trouble understanding the motives and emotions of other people
Many of these symptoms are labeled as either positive or negative. Positive symptoms are so called because they are not things people normally experience, but extra experiences. Examples would be delusions and hallucinations. Some negative symptoms would be the inability to feel emotions, loss of enjoyment, loss of interest in other people, and being uninspired to do anything. They are considered negative due to something being missing.
How are schizophrenics seen in society?
The popular culture portrayal of schizophrenia paints a picture of this population as outsiders with split personalities. They are seen as paranoid murderers roaming the streets and ready to attack anyone. This is a stereotype and grossly inaccurate. It shows the illness as just a combination of paranoia, hallucinations, and delusions. These symptoms are associated with schizophrenia, but they are not the most distinguishing ones. These are positive symptoms. The negative symptoms of schizophrenia are more relentless and widespread. They much more so affect the quality of life of people with schizophrenia. It is the negative symptoms that most affect the emotions of those suffering from the illness.
How do schizophrenics appear emotionally?
Research on schizophrenia and emotions has revealed that people with schizophrenia lack the ability to recognize and express emotion. Also found were intact areas, including an ability to have an emotional experience, and when presented with emotionally suggestive items, activation of the brain areas connected to processing emotions.
A typical negative symptom of those with schizophrenia is known as flat affect, meaning they often appear emotionally flat and lack emotional expressiveness. Research that focuses on schizophrenia and diminished emotional functioning shows that the flat aspect is extremely debilitating. Flat aspect is seen more often in men than women and does not respond well to treatment.
People with schizophrenia have problems incorporating emotional awareness with context. When shown emotional content, they report experiencing feelings that are different from those than might be expected. Differences in brain excitement are usually seen in areas that house cognitive control. These areas of the brain include parts of the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, so much research is concentrated on this area.
How do people with schizophrenia process emotions?
People with schizophrenia have problems predicting emotion. Research in brain imaging, behavioral health, and psychophysiology show that they can’t appreciate or maintain their emotional experiences. This research shows that the first schizophrenic episode shows the flat affect which is a beginning symptom of the disease. The findings are based on clinical studies of facial expressions of emotion in those affected. It shows the relationship between flat affect and worsening quality of life.
The research findings have led to the question of whether the flat affect is only a decrease in facial emotion recognition, or are there other areas of dysfunction related to flat affect. Does anything else affect their quality of life and adjustment? Relapses are the time in which symptoms get worse. When the symptoms get better or disappear is known as remission. When the hallucinations and delusions get worse, those affected can have trouble with:
- Thinking clearly
- Completing daily tasks
- Decision making
People with schizophrenia may not be able to control their emotions. They may not be able to interact normally with friends, family, community people, or their medical team.
How is schizophrenia diagnosed?
Mental health professionals diagnose schizophrenia by evaluating a person’s behavior and symptoms. They will only make this diagnosis after spending a significant period of time with the person affected. They also carefully gather information and thoroughly research other causes.
There is no specific test for schizophrenia and no specific warning that someone has it. Just having delusions or hallucinations does not necessarily mean a person has schizophrenia. This can make getting the right diagnosis lengthy and difficult. There are many medical conditions and other mental diseases that can present the same way. Tests like brain scans are sometimes used. This is done to make sure the symptoms are not being caused by other brain conditions or medical problems. Once properly diagnosed, the best treatment for someone with Schizophrenia is the use of psychological treatment, medicines, and the support of the community.
People with schizophrenia are less visibly expressive compared to those who don’t have the disease. Emotions may not be outwardly expressed, although internally their brain’s emotional response is being activated.
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Medically Reviewed on 5/25/2022
Department of Psychology, University of California, Berkeley, California: “Emotion Deficits in People with Schizophrenia.”
Tufts University’s Emotion, Brain, & Behavior Laboratory: “Emotion and Schizophrenia.”
Your Health in Mind: “Schizophrenia.”