Schizophrenia and Schizoaffective Disorder are largely believed to be genetic disorders, as it appears that there are certain risk factors in the brain that must be present in order for someone to develop it. That being said, it doesn’t act as a recessive or dominant disorder. In some cases, it acts dominant in that the more close relatives a person has with schizophrenia, the more likely they are to get it. In others, it skips generations or affects family members at random, much like a recessive trait. Environmental factors play a role as well, but even so, that genetic predisposition is still there.
Take the case of James, whose mother and father both exhibit schizophrenic symptoms to some degree, and the case of Lily, who isn’t aware of anyone in her family with mental illness. James is much more likely to develop schizophrenia even without any environmental factors playing in, whereas Lily probably only developed the disorder due to environmental factors. Both, however, will most probably show the known genetic risk factors. Therefore, a person may carry the predisposition to the illness, but not necessarily ever get it.
Environmental risks include physical or psychological trauma or abuse, childhood mental conditioning, poverty, prolonged emotional stress, or growing up with a mentally ill person. Schizophrenia commonly shows as early as 16-18 years of age, with patients not being diagnosed after the age of 45. While schizophrenia typically affects more men than women, schizoaffective disorder is seen more in women than men. Many early warning signs include depression, social withdrawal, odd or irrational behavior, difficulty with relationships, and in students, a decline in academics.
Both illnesses are difficult to diagnose, especially in teens since many of these behaviors are seen as par for the course for that age range. Nonetheless, these things should be paid close attention to since early diagnosis is key in preventing the disorder from completely overtaking a person’s life. Both are generally not diagnosed until after about six months of physical and psychological evaluations, though this isn’t always the case. Doctors tend to be reluctant in giving a child this diagnosis and it is rare for anyone under 16 to be medically deemed a schizophrenic.
The actual onset of the disorder can come slowly or suddenly. Its usual progression is over the course of months or years, but sometimes an environmental factor can trigger a psychotic episode that nearly instantly shifts the brain into the full swing of schizophrenia. It is important to remember that, similar to autism, schizophrenia is a spectrum; its symptoms vary in intensity from patient to patient and not all will experience the same symptoms.
The main features of diagnosing the disorder are hallucinations (typically auditory, but sometimes visual), delusions (beliefs strongly held despite proof they are false), disorganized thinking/behavior, and negative symptoms (those which affect a person’s ability to function normally; this is often confused with clinical depression). Two or more of these symptoms must be present for at least six months.
Disclaimer: I am not a doctor or therapist; I do not have a degree. I’m merely a schizoaffective patient who has studied my illnesses (and others) in depth. I urge everyone to do their own research as well.
~Sahreth ‘Baphy’ Bowden