Therapists explain common causes of schizophrenia

by Sarah Graham
Friday 24 April 2015
334 13029

Schizophrenia is a long-term, psychotic mental health condition, meaning those affected may sometimes have difficulty distinguishing their distressing thoughts and ideas from reality. Symptoms include hallucinations - that is, hearing or seeing things that aren't really there; delusional beliefs; muddled thoughts, and changes in behaviour, which are often based on the hallucinations and delusions. Like many mental health conditions, the exact cause of schizophrenia remains unknown, but we asked RSCPP therapists to explain some of the possible contributing factors.

Stressful life events

Each person who suffers from psychotic episodes is different. Serious psychotic symptoms can be triggered by a stressful event, or street drugs such as cannabis can alter the chemical balance of the brain if you had an existing predisposition. Stressful life events might include, bereavement, a serious accident, the loss of a job, ongoing relationship losses or problems, the birth of a child, and the sometimes catastrophic events of life that can work together to cause terrible emotional pain and confusion. Your mind may have difficulty processing the turn of events and so, with the use of symbolism and metaphor, you may seem to make word associations that most people would find difficult to understand. Additionally, your thinking can become distorted and intractable so that other people cannot make much sense of the flow of thoughts that you are encountering.

 

Childhood trauma

Research suggests, and I have often noted from my practice, that one of the most common causes of schizophrenia can be a degree of childhood trauma such as physical, emotional or sexual abuse, the loss of a parent, or a separation. Your brain responds to these traumatic experiences in a protective way, and this response may be fuelled by hyper vigilance, which can result in having paranoid ideas. This extreme anxiety about being in danger may have been useful while you were suffering the trauma, but not anymore. Your perception is therefore altered and you may be unable to see the world without looking through these 'paranoia glasses'. This is how an alternative reality potentially develops in your perception.

 

A combination of environmental factors 

Schizophrenia, like any psychotic condition, often has multiple causes, including disturbances in the developmental processes associated with thought and emotion regulation in early childhood. These disturbances may be linked to trauma or abuse, but may also be more subtly linked to parental care-giving style. For some people, these disturbances in development have then been compounded by other difficult life experiences, or compound trauma.

 

Chemical causes

According to Mind, there is some evidence that too much of the chemical dopamine, which carries messages between brain cells, may be linked to developing schizophrenia, although the exact link is not yet clear.

Likewise, the use of some street drugs, including cannabis, cocaine and amphetamines, has also been linked to symptoms of schizophrenia.

 

Genetic causes

There is some suggestion that schizophrenia may also be inherited genetically, as some families appear to be more prone to the condition than others. It is believed that certain genes may make you more susceptible to schizophrenia, rather than there being a direct genetic cause.


Finding support


If you are concerned about Schizophrenia then you may like to read about finding the right therapist for you. If this route is not appropriate for you, your GP can assess you and direct you towards support.

Find a Therapist working with Schizophrenia

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Updated 24 April 2015