Early Onset of Schizophrenia
The onset of schizophrenia ranges from adolescence (late teens) the to early thirties and tends to be more prevalent in males than females. The earliest signs and symptoms occur before the first episode of psychosis. Schizophrenia is rare when it comes to children, which is why the earliest signs begin during late adolescence. Since the process of schizophrenia is very gradual it is often hard to diagnose the disease in its earliest stage of diagnosis. Therefore it is important to be aware of the earliest warning signs of schizophrenia to treat the disease on time.
1- Psychotic symptoms are the earliest of the symptoms. The patient is unaware of their developing signs and often confuses the developing symptoms with other problems. For example, changing vision, and losing the sense of touch, smell and taste can easily be misunderstood for other forms of disease or seasonal common cold/ flu if in case they are suffering from it.
The next stage is when abnormal thinking patterns follow without any real basis. These are symptoms that will worsen and take over a person’s conduct emotionally/ behaviourally if left untreated. The typical experience of such symptoms includes;
Hallucinations- hearing voices, complaining of some unseen presence, talking about imaginary people. In many cultures including Pakistan, many people confuse it with their understanding of paranormal/ supernatural/ sorcery beliefs, which delays the right medical treatment for schizophrenic patients.
Delusions (holding a strong belief of something which does not exist)- the most common form of delusion is paranoia (extreme irrational fear). For example, a schizophrenic experiencing paranoia will constantly be in fear of ‘being followed’ or ‘having life under threat’ without any obvious evidence. Another form of delusion includes believing an unrealistic news/ show/ drama/ article/ another person’s story and believing it to be their own reality.
Unclear thought patterns- this includes disorganized thoughts and blurry speech. For example, a schizophrenic will not complete their sentences properly and often their narration of any topic or story will be broken down into different other mismatched narrations and stories.
2- Cognitive symptoms interfere with normal activities which hinder the individual's daily routine, such as low attention span, foggy mind, memory loss, facing difficulty in processing informed decisions, and altered information from reality. As subtle as these signs may be, they can be often confused with being stressed or overworked. Cognitive symptoms can be one of the earliest signs as well for some people (it may vary from person to person).
3- Other common symptoms include a complete lack of motivation, loss of appetite, losing interest in daily activities, feeling no emotions, finding normal daily tasks hard to complete, withdrawing from social circles and activities, finding no pleasure in everyday life, not being able to sustain daily normal tasks and activities.
Another common symptom present in most schizophrenics is having a ‘flat affect’. Flat affect is a reduced facial expression, meaning gradually they stop showing any emotions through their facial expression or through their speech.