Schizophrenia is a serious mental disorder that affects about one percent of people. Schizophrenia is characterized by psychosis, which may include hallucinations or delusions. Psychosis is considered a positive symptom of schizophrenia, as opposed to negative symptoms, or the absence or disruption of normal mental functions. These positive symptoms are what usually come to mind when we think of schizophrenia. Negative symptoms of schizophrenia include not interacting socially, anhedonia, or the inability to feel pleasure, flat affect, or lack of emotional responsiveness, inability to make plans or follow them through, and diminished speech. These symptoms are both more common and harder to diagnose. They also don’t respond as well to medication as positive symptoms do. Men are about 40 percent more likely to develop schizophrenia than women are. Men are also more likely to develop symptoms at an earlier age. The peak age of onset for schizophrenia in men is between the ages of 21 and 25, whereas the peak age of onset for women is between 25 and 30. Women also have another, smaller peak at about age 45. Women who first experience symptoms in their forties typically have milder symptoms. The different ages of onset may have a significant impact on how schizophrenia affects people’s lives. For example, since onset is later in women, women are more likely to already be married and perhaps have children when they start experiencing symptoms, meaning schizophrenia can affect the whole family and that the family will likely be a factor in treatment. Men with schizophrenia are less likely to get married at all, since symptoms often begin in their teens and men are more likely to lose interest in socializing. The symptoms of schizophrenia are also different in men and women. Men, in general, have more severe symptoms, especially social withdrawal, blunted or flat affect, and substance use. Men are also more prone to religious delusions, audible thoughts, and delusions of reference, such as the belief that someone on TV is talking directly to them. Women with schizophrenia are more likely to experience affective symptoms such as depression and anxiety. Women are also more likely to believe that other people’s thoughts are being put into their minds or that others can hear their thoughts. Women who experience late onset of symptoms are more likely to experience hallucinations and delusions. In terms of treatment, women fare slightly better than men. Women often respond better to medication and are hospitalized about half as often. This is thought to be because men metabolize medication at a much higher rate. Unfortunately, women also have a greater risk of side effects from antipsychotic medication. Women are more compliant in their treatment, which typically leads to better outcomes. This may be because women have more social support, having less social impairment, and possibly having families to help with treatment.
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