Schizophrenia is an illness that makes life incredibly difficult for a number of people. For many of its victims, the negative or withdrawal symptoms of the illness are the most persistently difficult ones to deal with, since by their very nature they aid in resisting diagnosis and treatment. Fortunately, a good first step in arming against the impacts of the negative symptoms is understanding them.
Negative v. Positive
The term "negative symptoms" implies that there are positive symptoms, which there are. Far from being beneficial, however, the positive symptoms of schizophrenia are simply ones that reflect an alteration in behavior or thought. Usually these alterations manifest themselves as hallucinations or delusions. A negative symptom, on the other hand, represents a lack of absence of thought, as when a schizophrenic appears emotionless. The negative symptoms are also notoriously more difficult to treat.
The negative symptoms of schizophrenia usually begin occurring years before the first episode of acute schizophrenia, but they are hard to catch. This stage of development is called the prodromal period of schizophrenia, and the symptoms include a progressive lack of social interaction and care about personal hygiene. The symptoms become more and more entrenched as this stage progresses.
In a fully schizophrenic patient, the negative symptoms take many forms and become more noticeable to the trained eye. The patient exhibits an overall lack of emotion, speaking in a dull voice and rarely changing the facial expression from a blank stare. Once loved activities are ignored, and the patient will exhibit apathy towards their household duties, school or job tasks, and a general lack of caring towards life. During all of this, the patient will become less communicative, withdrawing into him or herself and away from a normal life.
The impact of a long time suffering under untreated negative symptoms can be equally devastating to a personal and professional life. Obviously, a lack of motivation or drive factors heavily into performance at school or in a job, so a sufferer of schizophrenia may find themselves consistently marked down or fired. They may drive away their friends and family, who if they did not understand the illness may perceive a schizophrenic's lack of interest in them as hurtful. In the end, undiagnosed schizophrenia can dismantle someone's life.
Diagnosis and Treatment
As stated before, the negative symptoms of schizophrenia are particularly difficult to diagnose, especially if the patient is in a time of their life when uncommunicative behavior may be deemed normal, as during the teenage years. However, even if the symptoms are successfully diagnosed, family and friends have an uphill battle to get the sufferer of the illness to meet with doctors and psychologists who may be able to help. Some of the options for treatment are therapy, particularly cognitive behavior therapy. In addition, certain antipsychotic medication or antidepressants can alleviate symptoms, though many have other undesirable side effects.