Long-term effects of schizophrenia related social withdrawal

There are a lot of widespread misconceptions about schizophrenia, particularly the stereotypical portrayal of schizophrenia sufferers being dangerous or likely to commit violent crimes. This stereotype is common when the subject of being mentally ill comes up, but it is especially common when he discussion surrounds schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorders. It is ironic, however, that people with schizophrenia are more likely to be the victims of violent crime than they are likely to be the perpetrators of violent crimes (Bull, 2011).

What is schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia is classified as a chronic mental health and/or brain disorder or brain syndrome, syndrome meaning that there is a collection of syndrome with a less specified or unclear origin. It is clear that schizophrenia originates in the brain, that much has been discovered, but what exactly happens to cause this specific set of symptoms is not yet clear. Some studies suggest that it may be in part due to unstable or less prominent connections between grey and white matter areas as discusses in this issue of the magazine, but this is not the only theorized source (Kelly, 2018). Another study, for example, also suggests there maybe something different about the way neurotransmitters such as dopamine are processed in the brain (Patel, 2014). However, it is most important to note that no widespread consensus over the diagnostic criteria and the pathophysiology of schizophrenia (Patel, 2014)

What is the difference between schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder?

People with schizoaffective disorder are more likely to experience relatively sudden and prolonged mood swings, whereas with schizophrenia sufferers they tend to be a little shorter. People with schizophrenia, however, are more likely to experience more intense hallucination symptoms. Then again, from the DSM-IV to the DSM-V an important adjustment was made to the diagnoses of both of these disorders: that they occur on a spectrum, and that many symptoms may overlap and vary per individual. Thus, schizophrenia is now classified as a spectrum disorder.

Common symptoms

One symptom that is common for those on the schizophrenic spectrum is struggling to experience, express and act according to their emotions, especially when put under stress. This can include not facially expressing emotions in the same way those without schizophrenia do, or not feeling the drive to connect with others in a social way. Eventually, sometimes without a specific cause, this may morph into social avoidance. This can have different types of motivations for different cases. For example passively motivated social avoidance may be the result of the lack of a drive or interest regarding engagement with others. Due to the difficulties to regulate or experience emotions in a more stable and organized way, those with schizophrenia might not feel as connected to other human beings and this can result in a reduced drive to engage with them.

Actively motivated social avoidance may be more easily pictured. Commonly associated with schizophrenia are hallucinations or psychotic symptoms, such as hearing sounds or voices. This can result in feelings of paranoia, fear, general mistrust of others and in more extreme cases even emotional hostility towards others.

Short term effects schizophrenia and social withdrawal

Especially actively motivated social avoidance can result in relational damage with those around the person on the schizophrenia spectrum. They may have a falling out with them over perhaps, a hallucination of the loved-one doing something they never did, and the person on the spectrum feeling agitated or fearful. Part of being schizophrenic might include not being able to express this frustration in a constructive way. It may result in behaviors others would label “unusual,” which can result in problems at work or in friendships.

Long term effects schizophrenia and social withdrawal

When these situations persist over a longer period of time, they can have many different consequences. Because most of these are not desirable, it is important to reach out to friends with schizophrenia in a way that fits the individual. Long term effects can, for example, include the permanent loss of important relationships, or increased reluctance to approach and interact with others because of unpleasant experiences.

Isolation vs. loneliness

Yet, isolation and loneliness are different things. A person with schizophrenia may not necessarily feel lonely, but prolonged social isolation may also be bad for the brain according to some studies. Stimulation is generally very important in keeping our brains active and healthy. Extreme social isolation, whether self-imposed or due to external factors could lead to cognitive decline in some age groups (Cullen, 2011).

Social isolation caused by schizophrenia can also increase symptom severity according to some studies, loneliness or isolation can make anxiety-like symptoms worse, such as paranoia or general anxiety.

(Li et al., 2017)

Due to the more disorganized way of thinking, speaking and movement people with schizophrenia may find it hard getting back into things such as hobbies. Especially now in the era of COVID-19, mental recovery from a period of prolonged social isolation may be particularly hard for people with schizophrenia. The longer this endures, the harder it may be to get back into the swing of things.

Schizophrenia treatments

There are several different ways schizophrenia is treated some include medication and some do not. Most of the treatments are focused on reducing the impairment in practical functioning that may be brought on by the symptoms through behavioral therapy. It may include social and interactive therapy, or therapy to get more in touch with your emotions. It usually includes counseling or guidance for those around the person with schizophrenia too (social system based therapy), so everyone directly involved can learn to interact in a constructive way.

So while science has not yet gotten to the bottom of what exactly causes schizophrenia, the short and long term effects have been mapped quite well, and effective ways of helping those with schizophrenia have been found. Yet, there are still many misconceptions about this disorder, and many stereotypical portrayals can be found in popular media. Hopefully, society will grow more understanding as more is discovered about schizophrenia every day.

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