What Causes Schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia: A reality shift that can be treated, but not yet cured

Schizophrenia happens when something in a person’s brain isn’t working right. It’s a disease that alters what someone believes is reality. This shift happens because of biological issues, although things in a person’s environment can be a factor.

These changes in the brain cause one or more schizophrenia symptoms:

  • Hallucinations – the perception that something exists when it does not. This could be something seen or heard, like hearing voices, or it could be felt, smelled or even tasted.
  • Delusions – A belief in something that is not founded in reality, schizophrenic delusions tend to be paranoid or seemingly bizarre to others.
  • Problems organizing thoughts and/or speech.

To the person living with the disease, this shift is their new reality. There are ways to manage symptoms, and strong support from family can also bring positive improvements. Some people are able to manage the disease and live a relatively normal life, but others may need to rely on others for some degree of care.

What Causes Schizophrenia?

Most often striking young adults – a significant portion before the age of 19 – researchers don’t actually know what causes schizophrenia.

Experts know that genetics are a key risk factor; people who have a direct family member with the disease are in the highest risk group.

But while environmental factors also play a role, experts are a little unsure about the specifics.  For example, living in an urban area during childhood – or even as an adult – is suspected to increase risk. Prenatal conditions, including stress or malnutrition, can raise a person’s chance of developing schizophrenia; so can social factors like a dysfunctional family, unemployment, or poor housing conditions.

Substance abuse is a significant issue; use of cannabis, cocaine or amphetamines have all been flagged as possible risk factors. However, some research has shown that schizophrenics have a 50% risk of substance abuse in their lifetime. People with schizophrenia also often have another disorder (called a comorbid condition) like depression or anxiety disorder. Drugs are often used as a coping mechanism. So, there is some question whether substance abuse is a cause or a result.

Getting Help For Schizophrenia

At Stevenson, Waplak and Associates, we treat schizophrenia with a broad approach through psychosocial treatments, medication and an objective overview of what services might be available — for the person with the disorder and for their family. (Psychosocial treatments include education, stress management, supportive and family counselling, and relapse prevention planning.)

Schizophrenia is a disorder that affects each person differently – for example, the schizophrenia symptoms a person experiences, or factors that can trigger a relapse. We know it’s a disorder that causes a lot of stress and confusion, and we’re committed to being with you every step of the way.

The Schizophrenia Society of Canada offers a lot of general information about this disorder , as does the National Institutes of Mental Health in the U.S. If you or someone you care about needs help, please contact us for personalized help.