What exactly is schizophrenia and what are the causes?
Schizophrenia is a devastating brain disease whose acute stage always involves a psychotic episode. The name “schizophrenia” means “to split the mind”—a term which vividly captures the idea of a complete rupture between reality and psychotic thinking. Schizophrenia is defined as a common neurobiological disease affecting about 1% of the world’s population, which is roughly 20 million people. The general public tends to confuse schizophrenia with “split personality” or demonizes schizophrenia as psychopathic behavior.
Schizophrenia is linked to a genetic predisposition or vulnerability, as is true of any other medical disease. The actual cause is still unknown. Scientists around the world are performing genetic studies and investigating possible causes.
The disease usually occurs in a person’s late teens or early twenties. During this period, the final “pruning” of neurons, which are brain cells, is completed. Influenza viruses that occur in the mother during the middle trimester are under scrutiny. During the 4th, 5th and 6th months of gestation, fetuses undergo a complicated series of developmental processes in their brains, in which neurons hopefully migrate to their correct place, and then others are “pruned” correctly like the branches of a tree.
Scientists are searching for a correlation between these early prenatal infections as environmental insults that years later might impact the final pruning processes of the brain, at maturity. Difficult births, latent or dormant viruses, retroviruses, exposure to chemicals and any manner of environmental insult are all being investigated by teams of scientists around the world.
Because schizophrenia is such a common and debilitating disease, it can’t be ignored. I honestly believe that we’ll know a lot more about the disease in the next ten years, thanks to a cooperative worldwide scientific community. Perhaps they’ll find more than one cause, and subsequently provide reliable and custom treatments.