Schizophrenia is a chronic and severe mental disorder, signified by an abnormal interpretation of reality that requires life-long treatment.    Hallmark symptoms include distorted and disorganized thoughts, hallucinations, delusions, chronic feelings of fright and paranoia, and an inability to function normally in day to day life.

While not common, schizophrenia affects a broad spectrum of children and adults, The Mental Health Foundation reports these key statistics on MentalHealth.org:

  • Schizophrenic disorders affect around 26 million people worldwide and result in moderate or severe disability in sixty percent of cases.
  • Schizophrenic disorders rank 5th among men and 6th among women as a leading cause of years lived with disability and comprise roughly 1% of the global burden of disease – a fraction that is considered moderate to high.
  • More than 50% of people with schizophrenia are not receiving appropriate care and 90% of people with untreated schizophrenia are in developing countries.
  • Mortality among people with schizophrenia is approximately 50% above that of the general population, partly as a result of an increased incidence of suicide (about 10% die by suicide) and violent death, and partly as a result of an increased risk of a wide range of physical health problems.

 

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, schizophrenia is recognized as an incredibly complex disorder among experts, and has recently been recognized as possibly a collection of different disorders.  Considerations have also been made from a developmental perspective that the full psychosis often seen at time of diagnosis is actually a late stage of the disorder, with early intervention and treatment possibly offering hope for patients and families.

Now, researchers at Yale University have found that brain irregularities are present before a person develops schizophrenia, according to a study published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry.

Previously, researchers had found that patients with schizophrenia had significant changes in connections between the thalamus (the brain’s relay system) and the frontal cortex (involved in higher-level thinking function.)

Typically, schizophrenia develops in the late teens or early 20’s, but patients often show early warning signs including mild depression or hearing a voice call their name.  In this newly released study, researchers studied the brains of 243 people with early warning signs of schizophrenia and 154 healthy people – both groups were followed for 2 years.  They found that changes in the brain associated with schizophrenia are present before diagnosis– offering a potential marker for the disease.

Researchers said until this study it wasn’t know if brain changed were a result of the disease or caused by medication or another factor – and acknowledge more research needs to be done to confirm if the brains changes actually cause the disease.