The way schizophrenia presents itself can vary–sometimes drastically–depending on whether the affected individual is a man or a woman. As such, schizophrenia symptoms in females tend to be different from those of their male counterparts. This in turn means there are significant differences in what schizophrenia looks like in men than women. Although this serious mental illness occurs at similar rates in both men and women and has the same diagnostic criteria for either gender, large-scale studies have shown trends in the distinct way schizophrenia presents itself in women.
What Is Schizophrenia?
Schizophrenia is a serious mental illness that interferes with an individual’s ability to perceive reality. In addition to psychotic symptoms (hallucinations and delusions), these individuals find that their emotional responsiveness, cognitive processes, and even motor functions are impaired or disrupted. As such, this disorder can be tremendously debilitating, making it difficult for individuals to maintain relationships and fulfill day-to-day responsibilities. Matters become even more complicated as nearly half of those with schizophrenia have co-occurring mental health issues.
Causes of Schizophrenia
As is the case with most other mental illnesses, genetics play the biggest role in the cause of schizophrenia. However, there is no individual gene that can be blamed as the root cause. Rather, there’s a combination of up to hundreds of genes that can affect an individual’s risk. The mechanics behind schizophrenia are believed to be two neurotransmitters (which are involved in a number of other mental illnesses): dopamine and serotonin.
Dopamine is a chemical signal involved in motivation, mood, decision making, and even motor function. Concerningly high levels of dopamine have been linked to some of the psychotic symptoms of schizophrenia, whereas lower dopamine sensitivity was found to contribute to cognitive impairment.
The Symptoms of Schizophrenia
The symptoms of schizophrenia are categorized into three categories: positive symptoms, negative symptoms, and cognitive symptoms. The classification of ‘positive’ or ‘negative’ doesn’t refer to the context of being good or bad. Positive symptoms involve some sort of gain or addition. In this case, are schizophrenia’s hallucinations and delusions where they may see, smell, hear, taste, or feel things that aren’t there. Negative symptoms, on the other hand, are ones that a person has lost. For a schizophrenic, this includes a loss of motivation. Cognitive symptoms are much more straightforward and involve difficulties with concentration, focus, or memory.
- Anosognosia (lack of awareness of being ill)
- Catatonic behaviors
- Difficulty concentrating
- Difficulty finishing tasks
- Difficulty speaking (words are jumbled or nonsensical)
- Emotional withdrawal
- Exhaustion from lack of sleep
- Extremely disorganized
- Flat voice (little to no intonation)
- Hallucinations and delusions
- Hyperactivity or mania
- Inability to process abstract thinking or ideas
- Inappropriate reactions
- Lack of personal hygiene
- Less expressive (fewer facial expressions and hand gestures)
- Poor memory
- Repeating what others say or do
Schizophrenia in Women vs. Men
Schizophrenia affects less than one percent of the American population. Both women and men typically experience the onset of schizophrenia in their twenties; men in their early 20s and women in their late 20s and then again during menopause or postpartum. Detection can be trickier for women as they are less likely to experience the symptoms that might make them more socially withdrawn such as a blunted emotional response, monotonous voice, or lack of expression. Socially, schizophrenia may be less debilitating for women who are much more likely to go on to get married and have children.
Scientists aren’t entirely sure why this is the case. Some believe that estrogen provides some level of protection against this mental illness (which is why onset risk occurs again in a woman’s later years when estrogen levels are low). Others believe that the typically later-onset implies a lower severity. However, this does not mean that schizophrenia in women is any less serious.
Women with schizophrenia typically are more physically active than men. This coupled with their likelihood to experience hallucinations, delusions, and paranoid thoughts is why female schizophrenics also tend to be more hostile. Women face further schizophrenia risk factors because of a higher risk of depression, anxiety, and thus, suicide. Risks for other health conditions women are prone to such as breast cancer, osteoporosis, or thyroid issues, are also higher as individuals with schizophrenia are less likely to monitor their physical health.
Treating Schizophrenia in Women
There is currently no known cure for schizophrenia. So far, there are no known methods or treatments for preventing it in individuals are who at risk of being diagnosed with schizophrenia (such as the child of schizophrenic parents). There are possible treatments that may delay its onset (and potentially lessen its severity) or provide meaningful intervention that can make this mental disorder less debilitating. Schizophrenia treatment is highly individualized and based on a number of personal factors. Find a mental health provider today for a personalized schizophrenia treatment plan.