Schizophrenia is a psychotic disorder with a wide variety of biological and environmental causes. The disorder is probably most famous for causing hallucinations, wherein the affected person sees, hears, feels, tastes, or smells things that aren’t really present, and delusions, false beliefs that the afflicted person believes to be true.
However, while these symptoms are the most well-known, people who are affected by schizophrenia can also display a wide variety of other symptoms. In order for a person to be diagnosed with schizophrenia, they must have displayed symptoms for at least six months. Among the earliest symptoms to appear are:
1. Depression and social withdrawal
People in the early, or prodromal, phases of schizophrenia often display symptoms of depression or withdraw from the social world. Patients may report lack of motivation, a loss of interest in activities they used to enjoy, intense feelings of worthlessness, a long-lasting negative mood, psychomotor agitation or retardation, or changes in eating and sleeping patterns. While these are all classic signs of depressive disorders, the same symptoms can also indicate that a person is entering into the early stages of schizophrenia.
Of particular note is when a person withdraws socially. This is common in people who suffer from depression, but in people who suffer from schizophrenia, it can be a sign that they are secluding themselves because of increased sensory sensitivity, difficulty focusing, and/or delusions about the people around them. If a person with schizophrenia starts displaying symptoms of depression, or starts withdrawing socially, it is definitely a cause for concern. It is also worth keeping in mind that, in some cases, disorders such as Major Depressive Disorder can be co-morbid with Schizophrenia. In these cases, the mood symptoms are likely to complicate the symptoms of schizophrenia.
2. Hostility or suspiciousness
Another early sign of schizophrenia is an increase in antisocial behavior. People in the early stages of schizophrenia may start keeping secrets, respond extremely negatively to criticism, or accuse people of attempting to harm them. While this type of behavior is most likely to occur in people who specifically suffer from paranoid delusions, other hallucinations and delusions can also cause hostile or distrustful behavior if the person suffering believes that they are being threatened in some way.
While most people with the disorder are unlikely to turn to violence, and in fact are in more danger of being victimized than of victimizing others, if you feel that they are going to harm themselves or others, it is vital to call emergency responders. In short, if a person starts acting unusually distrustful of coworkers, loved ones, or even strangers, it may be an early warning sign of schizophrenia.
3. Lack of emotion or inappropriate emotional outbursts
People in the early stages of schizophrenia may display either extreme of emotional dysregulation. Some affected people display what is known as blunted or flat affect. Instead of reacting with normal emotions, they instead display a marked lack of reaction to emotional stimuli. They don’t appear happy when doing something they should find pleasurable; they don’t display anger, sadness, or fear when something bad happens to them.
Patients may often speak in a monotone and seem uninterested in what is happening to them. However, many people with schizophrenia, even those who display flat affect, report vivid emotional experiences, so one should not assume that these people are truly unaffected by what is happening to them. Other affected people, in contrast, display too much emotion, or display the wrong emotion at the wrong time. Examples of such behavior would include laughing at a funeral, acting angry or sad when receiving gifts, or displaying excessive grief over a relatively minor incident.
People with schizophrenia, and their loved ones, should be aware of these symptoms, as they can be a sign that another episode of the disease is about to begin. If these symptoms do present, consult with a mental health care professional immediately.