Schizophrenia Spectrum & other Psychotic Disorders

Schizophrenia is a word of greek origin and translates to splitting of the mind. The first part “schiz” mean to split and “phren” means mind. This is because schizophrenia a person experiences a splitting in personality, emotions, thoughts and reality. 


The 3 groups of symptoms of schizophrenia are:

Positive symptoms (positive here means the presence of something, think of a plus sign, rather than something good): 

  • Hallucinations – experiencing sensations that are not there (auditory – hearing sounds that aren’t there like someone talking to you; visual – seeing things that aren’t there; tactile – feeling things touching you that aren’t there; olfactory – experiencing smells and tastes that aren’t there).
  • Delusions – strong beliefs that are not true (delusions of grandeur – belief that you’re someone important, especially someone from the past; persecutory delusions – belief that people are plotting against you, and disordered thinking; jealous delusions – belief that you partner is unfaithful even when proven untrue, and a few other types).
  • Disorganized thought & speech – difficulty maintaining coherent speech or ideas. Sentences are usually jumbled up or zoning out during conversations is frequent.
  • Movement disorders – unusual jumpiness or agitation; long periods of statue-like stillness called catatonia.

Negative symptoms (negative here means the absence of something, think of a minus sign): 

  • Lack of social engagement, lack of emotional expression (flat affect), lack of motivation, lapses in memory, concentration and decision-making


There is still research ongoing about what exactly causes schizophrenia. One or a combination of the following increases a person’s risk of developing schizophrenia

  • Family history/Genetics (runs in the family)
  • Substance abuse
  • Childhood trauma, trauma and highly stressful life events (e.g. abuse, loss, heartbreak, disaster)
  • Abnormal brain chemistry or structure

Other Psychotic Disorders

Schizophreniform Disorder – similar to schizophrenia but symptoms exist for more than 1 month but less than 6 months

Schizoaffective Disorder – schizophrenia with a mood disorder like major depression or bipolar disorder

Brief Psychotic Disorder – psychotic symptoms for less than 1 month

Delusional Disorder – only delusions for one month or more but with normal functioning.


The African Context

In our African society, schizophrenia and different psychotic disorders are often linked to spiritual causes. Psychosis is often referred to as “madness” in our society. People are often sent to prayer camps that can sometime treat patients in an inhumane way. Another assumption is that marijuana makes people “mad”. While this is not the case, substance abuse can trigger the onset of schizophrenia, especially in those who may have the genetic predisposition. Finally, most people with schizophrenia are not violent. Only a few who experience paranoia may attack because of the belief that they are being plotted against. We also often assume schizophrenia is a life sentence but many who have receive medical treatment, psychotherapy and family support can actually become functioning members of society. So it’s important to share this information with friends and family so we help end the stigma around these group of disorders.

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