The symptoms of schizophrenia are often described as positive and negative. Positive symptoms of the illness are those most of us are familiar with: hallucinations, delusional and paranoid behaviour, and confused thoughts. But although the positive symptoms of schizophrenia are very serious, the schizophrenia negative symptoms can be just as debilitating and they often go unnoticed (and untreated) for many years.
What are the schizophrenia negative symptoms?
Negative symptoms of schizophrenia can begin very slowly, a stage of the illness referred to as the “prodromal period”. Patients living with schizophrenia negative symptoms will gradually become withdrawn, their behaviour and personality will change, and they will lose all interest in everything around them. They might slowly change from a sociable and outgoing person into an introverted individual with no friends and no motivation.
Other schizophrenia negative symptoms
A person in the early stages of schizophrenia will have no interest in anything or anyone. Their emotions will be flat or non existent and they might stop communicating because they feel they have nothing to say. It is not uncommon for schizophrenics to lack motivation and suffer from sleep disorders, and they may end up spending long periods of time sleeping during the day or refusing to leave the house.
How serious are the negative symptoms of schizophrenia?
Many schizophrenics suffering from negative symptoms of the illness do not receive any kind of help or even a firm diagnosis. Because they are not aggressive, hostile, or showing any positive symptoms, treatment is not always considered to be a priority and often families simply accept that the person is just a bit “odd” rather than actually ill and suffering from a recognizable mental health condition.
Unfortunately, although the negative symptoms of schizophrenia have not reached the acute stage of the illness, they can be just as debilitating, and when such symptoms become enduring over a period of many years (a condition referred to as the “deficit syndrome”), the prognosis is much poorer than it is for those patients who subsequently develop positive symptoms of schizophrenia.
How are negative symptoms of schizophrenia diagnosed?
Many patients are completely unaware of the fact they are suffering from the early stages of schizophrenia and they are often unconcerned even if they do suspect something is not right. It is also common for families and friends to ignore the symptoms, which makes it unlikely that the patient will receive a proper clinical assessment until their symptoms become acute.
If the patient is presented for a clinical assessment, diagnosis will be made on the strength of talking to the person and asking them detailed questions about their daily routine and behaviour. Observations and concerns raised by family members will also be taken into consideration.
How are the negative symptoms of schizophrenia treated?
Low levels of antipsychotic medications can reduce the negative symptoms of schizophrenia. SSRI antidepressant medications can also help. However, medication often has a limited effect on the negative symptoms of schizophrenia and psychotherapy can sometimes be more effective at reducing the effects of the illness and helping the patient to improve the quality of their life.