Maintaining healthy relationships is hard. It becomes much more difficult when a co-worker, friend, family member, or significant other starts showing signs of mental health problems. It’s hard to watch someone you care about struggle — especially when you don’t know what’s wrong. Is it anxiety? Depression? Or a less difficult condition to diagnose, like schizophrenia?
Do you know the signs and symptoms of schizophrenia? Watch out for these red flags.
According to the Sleep Health Foundation, sleep problems such as insomnia are one of many possible warning signs of the onset of schizophrenia. Other symptoms may cause this, such as fear and anxiety associated with delusions or hallucinations. In more severe cases, insomnia may be a precursor to psychosis.
Sleep deprivation can worsen schizophrenia symptoms, in addition to damaging a person’s mental and physical health in other ways. Not getting enough sleep can cause problems with memory and concentration, and can even increase heart disease risk. If you notice someone close to you is struggling with sleep, keep an eye out for other schizophrenia symptoms as well. They could be related.
2. Delusions or hallucinations
Delusions and hallucinations are the most well-known schizophrenia symptoms, but it’s not always like you see in the movies. Everyday Health says auditory hallucinations are most common among people with the condition, but most are well equipped to self-cope. Trouble frequently arises when friends and close family members react negatively to these symptoms, usually displaying fear or dismissing the problem.
Psychotic schizophrenia symptoms are the easiest to detect, though how you go about addressing them can make a big difference. Caregiver warns to never try and convince someone their delusions or hallucinations aren’t real. Trust is extremely important in making sure a person experiencing these symptoms gets help. If someone feels they can talk to you about what they’re seeing, hearing, or feeling, they’re much more likely to agree to let you help them seek treatment.
3. Abnormal behavior
Erratic behavior is a major warning sign that something’s going on, especially if it’s unusual for a person to act that way. Mayo Clinic says irregular behavior can manifest in many different ways. A person might appear agitated when they normally don’t, or anger more easily than usual. They might also neglect personal hygiene, have difficulty focusing on and completing tasks, and appear unable to answer basic questions logically. Problems with memory are also common. Violence is possible, but not uncommon.
Left untreated, like other mental disorders, schizophrenia can turn someone’s world upside down. They may not be able to work or attend school, maintain relationships, or take care of themselves. If you notice someone acting out of character, it’s OK to encourage them to get professional help. The sooner they do, the more likely they are to avoid harmful consequences for their actions.
4. Disorganized thinking or speech
Talking in a way that’s difficult for others to understand — whether it’s the words themselves that seem irrational, or the ideas being presented — is a common schizophrenia symptom. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, this is often referred to as “thought disorder.” A person struggles to clearly communicate their thoughts, which might sound jumbled when they try speaking them out loud.
It’s not easy to watch someone go through this, but you can help in small ways. Livestrong.com suggests compassion is your most valuable asset when trying to communicate with someone confused or frightened by their thoughts or inability to speak coherently. Timing is also important. It’s not typically helpful to try and communicate with someone who appears distracted or agitated. Take on the role of a support system, available when needed.
5. Lacking emotion
Sometimes, schizophrenia doesn’t look like what you’d expect. A person isn’t “hearing voices,” acting paranoid, or lashing out violently. Instead, they appear emotionless and withdrawn, as if they don’t have any interest in what’s going on around them. Experts call this “emotional flatness.” Delusions and hallucinations, for example, are called positive symptoms — psychotic behaviors that are much easier to spot and treat than negative symptoms like showing a complete lack of emotion.
Research says negative schizophrenia symptoms are extremely disruptive in terms of behavior and emotion, and can be just as damaging as irrational behavior or thinking. These symptoms can even look a lot like depression in many cases, which is why it’s important to take all signs into account before assuming someone has schizophrenia.
6. Social withdrawal
According to Mental Health America, social withdrawal is another negative symptom of schizophrenia. People living with schizophrenia often struggle socially, finding it difficult to relate to and interact with others, even as adults. Social isolation can also occur due to anxiety or fear or as a result of sudden disinterest, which can look a lot like depression, an anxiety disorder, or both.
It’s not uncommon for schizophrenia to occur with co-morbidities, or mental or physical health conditions that occur simultaneously. In some cases, says Everyday Health, subtypes of schizophrenia can combine classic schizophrenia symptoms with those of either depression or bipolar disorder at the same time. This is why it’s important to encourage professional help if someone is displaying signs of any of these conditions, so they can receive the exact treatment they need.
Self-harm can occur for many reasons. Mayo Clinic reports it can display as non-suicidal in people who lack healthy coping mechanisms. People who have difficulty interpreting and expressing emotions are at high risk. People who live with mental health conditions like schizophrenia are also more likely to engage in self-harm. Suicidal ideation often occurs alongside self-harm, but not always.
According to WebMD, substance abuse and depression increase a person’s risk of attempting suicide if they live with schizophrenia. A person is also at higher suicide risk if they are aware of their mental health condition and fear it could get worse. Lacking support is also a major risk factor, which is again why patience, understanding, and compassion are essential.
Always contact emergency responders immediately if you believe someone you know is in danger of harming themselves.