What is Fluoxetine?

Introduction

Fluoxetine, sold under the brand names Prozac and Sarafem among others, is an antidepressant of the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) class. It is used for the treatment of major depressive disorder, obsessive–compulsive disorder (OCD), bulimia nervosa, panic disorder, and premenstrual dysphoric disorder. It is also approved for treatment of major depressive disorder in adolescents and children 8 years of age and over. It has also been used to treat premature ejaculation. Fluoxetine is taken by mouth.

Common side effects include indigestion, trouble sleeping, sexual dysfunction, loss of appetite, dry mouth, and rash. Serious side effects include serotonin syndrome, mania, seizures, an increased risk of suicidal behaviour in people under 25 years old, and an increased risk of bleeding. Discontinuation syndrome is less likely to occur with fluoxetine than with other antidepressants, but it still happens in many cases. Fluoxetine taken during pregnancy is associated with significant increase in congenital heart defects in the newborns. It has been suggested that fluoxetine therapy may be continued during breastfeeding if it was used during pregnancy or if other antidepressants were ineffective. Its mechanism of action is unknown, but some hypothesize that it is related to serotonin activity in the brain.

Fluoxetine was discovered by Eli Lilly and Company in 1972, and entered medical use in 1986. It is on the World Health Organisation’s List of Essential Medicines. It is available as a generic medication. In 2018, it was the 23rd most commonly prescribed medication in the United States, with more than 25 million prescriptions. Lilly also markets fluoxetine in a fixed-dose combination with olanzapine as olanzapine/fluoxetine (Symbyax).

Brief History

The work which eventually led to the discovery of fluoxetine began at Eli Lilly and Company in 1970 as a collaboration between Bryan Molloy and Robert Rathbun. It was known at that time that the antihistamine diphenhydramine shows some antidepressant-like properties. 3-Phenoxy-3-phenylpropylamine, a compound structurally similar to diphenhydramine, was taken as a starting point, and Molloy synthesized a series of dozens of its derivatives. Hoping to find a derivative inhibiting only serotonin reuptake, an Eli Lilly scientist, David T. Wong, proposed to retest the series for the in vitro reuptake of serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine. This test, carried out by Jong-Sir Horng in May 1972, showed the compound later named fluoxetine to be the most potent and selective inhibitor of serotonin reuptake of the series. Wong published the first article about fluoxetine in 1974. A year later, it was given the official chemical name fluoxetine and the Eli Lilly and Company gave it the trade name Prozac. In February 1977, Dista Products Company, a division of Eli Lilly & Company, filed an Investigational New Drug application to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for fluoxetine.

Fluoxetine appeared on the Belgian market in 1986. In the US, the FDA gave its final approval in December 1987, and a month later Eli Lilly began marketing Prozac; annual sales in the US reached $350 million within a year. Worldwide sales eventually reached a peak of $2.6 billion a year.

Lilly tried several product line extension strategies, including extended release formulations and paying for clinical trials to test the efficacy and safety of fluoxetine in premenstrual dysphoric disorder and rebranding fluoxetine for that indication as “Sarafem” after it was approved by the FDA in 2000, following the recommendation of an advisory committee in 1999. The invention of using fluoxetine to treat PMDD was made by Richard Wurtman at MIT; the patent was licensed to his startup, Interneuron, which in turn sold it to Lilly.

To defend its Prozac revenue from generic competition, Lilly also fought a five-year, multimillion-dollar battle in court with the generic company Barr Pharmaceuticals to protect its patents on fluoxetine, and lost the cases for its line-extension patents, other than those for Sarafem, opening fluoxetine to generic manufacturers starting in 2001. When Lilly’s patent expired in August 2001, generic drug competition decreased Lilly’s sales of fluoxetine by 70% within two months.

In 2000 an investment bank had projected that annual sales of Sarafem could reach $250M/year. Sales of Sarafem reached about $85M/year in 2002, and in that year Lilly sold its assets connected with the drug for $295M to Galen Holdings, a small Irish pharmaceutical company specializing in dermatology and women’s health that had a sales force tasked to gynaecologists’ offices; analysts found the deal sensible since the annual sales of Sarafem made a material financial difference to Galen, but not to Lilly.

Bringing Sarafem to market harmed Lilly’s reputation in some quarters. The diagnostic category of PMDD was controversial since it was first proposed in 1987, and Lilly’s role in retaining it in the appendix of the DSM-IV-TR, the discussions for which got under way in 1998, has been criticised. Lilly was criticised for inventing a disease in order to make money, and for not innovating but rather just seeking ways to continue making money from existing drugs. It was also criticised by the FDA and groups concerned with women’s health for marketing Sarafem too aggressively when it was first launched; the campaign included a television commercial featuring a harried woman at the grocery store who asks herself if she has PMDD.

Medical Uses

Fluoxetine is frequently used to treat major depressive disorder, OCD, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), bulimia nervosa, panic disorder, premenstrual dysphoric disorder, and trichotillomania. It has also been used for cataplexy, obesity, and alcohol dependence, as well as binge eating disorder. Fluoxetine seems to be ineffective for social anxiety disorder. Studies do not support a benefit in children with autism, though there is but tentative evidence for its benefit in adult autism.

Depression

Efficacy of fluoxetine for acute and maintenance treatment of major depressive disorder in adults as well as children and adolescents (8 to 18 years) was established in multiple clinical trials. In addition to being effective for depression in 6-week long double-blind controlled trials, fluoxetine was better than placebo for the prevention of depression recurrence, when the patients, who originally responded to fluoxetine, were treated for a further 38 weeks. Efficacy of fluoxetine for geriatric as well as paediatric depression was also demonstrated in placebo-controlled trials.

Fluoxetine is as effective as tricyclic antidepressants but is better tolerated. It is less effective than sertraline, mirtazapine, and venlafaxine. According to a network analysis of clinical trials, fluoxetine may belong to the group of less effective antidepressants; however, its acceptability is higher than any other antidepressant, except agomelatine.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

The efficacy of fluoxetine in the treatment of OCD was demonstrated in two randomised multicentre phase III clinical trials. The pooled results of these trials demonstrated that 47% of completers treated with the highest dose were “much improved” or “very much improved” after 13 weeks of treatment, compared to 11% in the placebo arm of the trial. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry state that SSRIs, including fluoxetine, should be used as first-line therapy in children, along with cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), for the treatment of moderate to severe OCD.

Panic Disorder

The efficacy of fluoxetine in the treatment of panic disorder was demonstrated in two 12-week randomised multicentre phase III clinical trials that enrolled patients diagnosed with panic disorder, with or without agoraphobia. In the first trial, 42% of subjects in the fluoxetine-treated arm were free of panic attacks at the end of the study, vs. 28% in the placebo arm. In the second trial, 62% of fluoxetine treated patients were free of panic attacks at the end of the study, vs. 44% in the placebo arm.

Bulimia Nervosa

A 2011 systematic review discussed seven trials which compared fluoxetine to a placebo in the treatment of bulimia nervosa, six of which found a statistically significant reduction in symptoms such as vomiting and binge eating. However, no difference was observed between treatment arms when fluoxetine and psychotherapy were compared to psychotherapy alone.

Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder

Fluoxetine is used to treat premenstrual dysphoric disorder, a condition where individuals have affective and somatic symptoms monthly during the luteal phase of menstruation. Taking fluoxetine 20 mg/d can be effective in treating PMDD, though doses of 10mg/d have also been prescribed effectively.

Impulsive Aggression

Fluoxetine is considered a first-line medication for the treatment of impulsive aggression of low intensity. Fluoxetine reduced low intensity aggressive behaviour in patients in intermittent aggressive disorder and borderline personality disorder. Fluoxetine also reduced acts of domestic violence in alcoholics with a history of such behaviour.

Special Populations

In children and adolescents, fluoxetine is the antidepressant of choice due to tentative evidence favouring its efficacy and tolerability. In pregnancy, fluoxetine is considered a category C drug by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Evidence supporting an increased risk of major foetal malformations resulting from fluoxetine exposure is limited, although the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) of the UK has warned prescribers and patients of the potential for fluoxetine exposure in the first trimester (during organogenesis, formation of the foetal organs) to cause a slight increase in the risk of congenital cardiac malformations in the newborn. Furthermore, an association between fluoxetine use during the first trimester and an increased risk of minor foetal malformations was observed in one study.

However, a systematic review and meta-analysis of 21 studies – published in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology Canada – concluded:

“the apparent increased risk of fetal cardiac malformations associated with maternal use of fluoxetine has recently been shown also in depressed women who deferred SSRI therapy in pregnancy, and therefore most probably reflects an ascertainment bias. Overall, women who are treated with fluoxetine during the first trimester of pregnancy do not appear to have an increased risk of major fetal malformations.”

Per the FDA, infants exposed to SSRIs in late pregnancy may have an increased risk for persistent pulmonary hypertension of the newborn. Limited data support this risk, but the FDA recommends physicians consider tapering SSRIs such as fluoxetine during the third trimester. A 2009 review recommended against fluoxetine as a first-line SSRI during lactation, stating, “Fluoxetine should be viewed as a less-preferred SSRI for breastfeeding mothers, particularly with newborn infants, and in those mothers who consumed fluoxetine during gestation.” Sertraline is often the preferred SSRI during pregnancy due to the relatively minimal foetal exposure observed and its safety profile while breastfeeding.

Adverse Effects

Side effects observed in fluoxetine-treated persons in clinical trials with an incidence >5% and at least twice as common in fluoxetine-treated persons compared to those who received a placebo pill include abnormal dreams, abnormal ejaculation, anorexia, anxiety, asthenia, diarrhoea, dry mouth, dyspepsia, flu syndrome, impotence, insomnia, decreased libido, nausea, nervousness, pharyngitis, rash, sinusitis, somnolence, sweating, tremor, vasodilation, and yawning. Fluoxetine is considered the most stimulating of the SSRIs (that is, it is most prone to causing insomnia and agitation). It also appears to be the most prone of the SSRIs for producing dermatologic reactions (e.g. urticaria (hives), rash, itchiness, etc.).

Sexual Dysfunction

Sexual dysfunction, including loss of libido, anorgasmia, lack of vaginal lubrication, and erectile dysfunction, are some of the most commonly encountered adverse effects of treatment with fluoxetine and other SSRIs. While early clinical trials suggested a relatively low rate of sexual dysfunction, more recent studies in which the investigator actively inquires about sexual problems suggest that the incidence is >70%. On the 11th of June 2019 the Pharmacovigilance Risk Assessment Committee of the European Medicines Agency concluded that there is a possible causal association between SSRI use and long-lasting sexual dysfunction that persists despite discontinuation of SSRI, including fluoxetine, and that the labels of these drugs should be updated to include a warning.

Discontinuation Syndrome

Fluoxetine’s longer half-life makes it less common to develop discontinuation syndrome following cessation of therapy, especially when compared to antidepressants with shorter half-lives such as paroxetine. Although gradual dose reductions are recommended with antidepressants with shorter half-lives, tapering may not be necessary with fluoxetine.

Pregnancy

Antidepressant exposure (including fluoxetine) is associated with shorter average duration of pregnancy (by three days), increased risk of preterm delivery (by 55%), lower birth weight (by 75 g), and lower Apgar scores (by <0.4 points). There is 30-36% increase in congenital heart defects among children whose mothers were prescribed fluoxetine during pregnancy, with fluoxetine use in the first trimester associated with 38-65% increase in septal heart defects.

Suicide

In 2007 the FDA required all antidepressants to carry a black box warning stating that antidepressants increase the risk of suicide in people younger than 25. This warning is based on statistical analyses conducted by two independent groups of FDA experts that found a 2-fold increase of the suicidal ideation and behaviour in children and adolescents, and 1.5-fold increase of suicidality in the 18-24 age group. The suicidality was slightly decreased for those older than 24, and statistically significantly lower in the 65 and older group. This analysis was criticized by Donald Klein, who noted that suicidality, that is suicidal ideation and behaviour, is not necessarily a good surrogate marker for completed suicide, and it is still possible, while unproven, that antidepressants may prevent actual suicide while increasing suicidality.

There is less data on fluoxetine than on antidepressants as a whole. For the above analysis on the antidepressant level, the FDA had to combine the results of 295 trials of 11 antidepressants for psychiatric indications to obtain statistically significant results. Considered separately, fluoxetine use in children increased the odds of suicidality by 50%, and in adults decreased the odds of suicidality by approximately 30%. Similarly, the analysis conducted by the UK MHRA found a 50% increase of odds of suicide-related events, not reaching statistical significance, in the children and adolescents on fluoxetine as compared to the ones on placebo. According to the MHRA data, for adults fluoxetine did not change the rate of self-harm and statistically significantly decreased suicidal ideation by 50%.

QT Prolongation

Fluoxetine can affect the electrical currents that heart muscle cells use to coordinate their contraction, specifically the potassium currents Ito and IKs that repolarise the cardiac action potential. Under certain circumstances, this can lead to prolongation of the QT interval, a measurement made on an electrocardiogram reflecting how long it takes for the heart to electrically recharge after each heartbeat. When fluoxetine is taken alongside other drugs that prolong the QT interval, or by those with a susceptibility to long QT syndrome, there is a small risk of potentially lethal abnormal heart rhythms such as Torsades de Pointes. As of 2019, the drug reference site CredibleMeds lists Fluoxetine as leading to a conditional risk of arrhythmias.

Overdose

In overdose, most frequent adverse effects include:

  • Nervous system effects:
    • Anxiety.
    • Nervousness.
    • Insomnia.
    • Drowsiness.
    • Fatigue or asthenia.
    • Tremor.
    • Dizziness or lightheadedness.
  • Gastrointestinal effects:
    • Anorexia (symptom).
    • Nausea.
    • Diarrhoea.
    • Vasodilation.
    • Dry mouth.
    • Abnormal vision.
  • Other effects:
    • Abnormal ejaculation.
    • Rash.
    • Sweating.
    • Decreased libido.

Interactions

Contraindications include prior treatment (within the past 5-6 weeks, depending on the dose) with MAOIs such as phenelzine and tranylcypromine, due to the potential for serotonin syndrome. Its use should also be avoided in those with known hypersensitivities to fluoxetine or any of the other ingredients in the formulation used. Its use in those concurrently receiving pimozide or thioridazine is also advised against.

In some cases, use of dextromethorphan-containing cold and cough medications with fluoxetine is advised against, due to fluoxetine increasing serotonin levels, as well as the fact that fluoxetine is a cytochrome P450 2D6 inhibitor, which causes dextromethorphan to not be metabolized at a normal rate, thus increasing the risk of serotonin syndrome and other potential side effects of dextromethorphan.

Patients who are taking anticoagulants or NSAIDS must be careful when taking fluoxetine or other SSRIs, as they can sometimes increase the blood-thinning effects of these medications.

Fluoxetine and norfluoxetine inhibit many isozymes of the cytochrome P450 system that are involved in drug metabolism. Both are potent inhibitors of CYP2D6 (which is also the chief enzyme responsible for their metabolism) and CYP2C19, and mild to moderate inhibitors of CYP2B6 and CYP2C9. In vivo, fluoxetine and norfluoxetine do not significantly affect the activity of CYP1A2 and CYP3A4. They also inhibit the activity of P-glycoprotein, a type of membrane transport protein that plays an important role in drug transport and metabolism and hence P-glycoprotein substrates such as loperamide may have their central effects potentiated. This extensive effect on the body’s pathways for drug metabolism creates the potential for interactions with many commonly used drugs.

Its use should also be avoided in those receiving other serotonergic drugs such as monoamine oxidase inhibitors, tricyclic antidepressants, methamphetamine, amphetamine, MDMA, triptans, buspirone, serotonin–norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors and other SSRIs due to the potential for serotonin syndrome to develop as a result.

There is also the potential for interaction with highly protein-bound drugs due to the potential for fluoxetine to displace said drugs from the plasma or vice versa hence increasing serum concentrations of either fluoxetine or the offending agent.

Pharmacology

Pharmacodynamics

Fluoxetine is a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) and does not appreciably inhibit norepinephrine and dopamine reuptake at therapeutic doses. It does, however, delay the reuptake of serotonin, resulting in serotonin persisting longer when it is released. Large doses in rats have been shown to induce a significant increase in synaptic norepinephrine and dopamine. Thus, dopamine and norepinephrine may contribute to the antidepressant action of fluoxetine in humans at supratherapeutic doses (60-80 mg). This effect may be mediated by 5HT2C receptors, which are inhibited by higher concentrations of fluoxetine.

Fluoxetine increases the concentration of circulating allopregnanolone, a potent GABAA receptor positive allosteric modulator, in the brain. Norfluoxetine, a primary active metabolite of fluoxetine, produces a similar effect on allopregnanolone levels in the brains of mice. Additionally, both fluoxetine and norfluoxetine are such modulators themselves, actions which may be clinically-relevant.

In addition, fluoxetine has been found to act as an agonist of the σ1-receptor, with a potency greater than that of citalopram but less than that of fluvoxamine. However, the significance of this property is not fully clear. Fluoxetine also functions as a channel blocker of anoctamin 1, a calcium-activated chloride channel. A number of other ion channels, including nicotinic acetylcholine receptors and 5-HT3 receptors, are also known to be inhibited at similar concentrations.

Fluoxetine has been shown to inhibit acid sphingomyelinase, a key regulator of ceramide levels which derives ceramide from sphingomyelin.

Mechanism of Action

Fluoxetine elicits antidepressant effect by inhibiting serotonin re-uptake in the synapse by binding to the re-uptake pump on the neuronal membrane to increase serotonin availability and enhance neurotransmission. Norfluoxetine and desmethylfluoxetine are metabolites of fluoxetine and also act as serotonin re-uptake inhibitors, increasing the duration of action of the drug.

Pharmacokinetics

The bioavailability of fluoxetine is relatively high (72%), and peak plasma concentrations are reached in 6-8 hours. It is highly bound to plasma proteins, mostly albumin and α1-glycoprotein. Fluoxetine is metabolised in the liver by isoenzymes of the cytochrome P450 system, including CYP2D6. The role of CYP2D6 in the metabolism of fluoxetine may be clinically important, as there is great genetic variability in the function of this enzyme among people. CYP2D6 is responsible for converting fluoxetine to its only active metabolite, norfluoxetine. Both drugs are also potent inhibitors of CYP2D6.

The extremely slow elimination of fluoxetine and its active metabolite norfluoxetine from the body distinguishes it from other antidepressants. With time, fluoxetine and norfluoxetine inhibit their own metabolism, so fluoxetine elimination half-life increases from 1 to 3 days, after a single dose, to 4 to 6 days, after long-term use. Similarly, the half-life of norfluoxetine is longer (16 days) after long-term use. Therefore, the concentration of the drug and its active metabolite in the blood continues to grow through the first few weeks of treatment, and their steady concentration in the blood is achieved only after four weeks. Moreover, the brain concentration of fluoxetine and its metabolites keeps increasing through at least the first five weeks of treatment. The full benefit of the current dose a patient receives is not realised for at least a month following ingestion. For example, in one 6-week study, the median time to achieving consistent response was 29 days. Likewise, complete excretion of the drug may take several weeks. During the first week after treatment discontinuation, the brain concentration of fluoxetine decreases by only 50%, The blood level of norfluoxetine four weeks after treatment discontinuation is about 80% of the level registered by the end of the first treatment week, and, seven weeks after discontinuation, norfluoxetine is still detectable in the blood.

Measurement in Body Fluids

Fluoxetine and norfluoxetine may be quantitated in blood, plasma or serum to monitor therapy, confirm a diagnosis of poisoning in a hospitalised person or assist in a medicolegal death investigation. Blood or plasma fluoxetine concentrations are usually in a range of 50-500 μg/L in persons taking the drug for its antidepressant effects, 900-3000 μg/L in survivors of acute overdosage and 1000-7000 μg/L in victims of fatal overdosage. Norfluoxetine concentrations are approximately equal to those of the parent drug during chronic therapy, but may be substantially less following acute overdosage, since it requires at least 1-2 weeks for the metabolite to achieve equilibrium.

Usage

In 2010, over 24.4 million prescriptions for generic fluoxetine were filled in the United States, making it the third-most prescribed antidepressant after sertraline and citalopram. In 2011, 6 million prescriptions for fluoxetine were filled in the United Kingdom.

Society and Culture

American Airline Pilots

Beginning 05 April 2010, fluoxetine became one of four antidepressant drugs that the US Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) permitted for pilots with authorisation from an aviation medical examiner. The other permitted antidepressants are sertraline (Zoloft), citalopram (Celexa), and escitalopram (Lexapro). These four remain the only antidepressants permitted by FAA as of 02 December 2016.

Sertraline, citalopram and escitalopram are the only antidepressants permitted for EASA medical certification, as of January 2019.

Environmental Effects

Fluoxetine has been detected in aquatic ecosystems, especially in North America. There is a growing body of research addressing the effects of fluoxetine (among other SSRIs) exposure on non-target aquatic species.

In 2003, one of the first studies addressed in detail the potential effects of fluoxetine on aquatic wildlife; this research concluded that exposure at environmental concentrations was of little risk to aquatic systems if a hazard quotient approach was applied to risk assessment. However, they also stated the need for further research addressing sub-lethal consequences of fluoxetine, specifically focusing on study species’ sensitivity, behavioural responses, and endpoints modulated by the serotonin system.

Since 2003, a number of studies have reported fluoxetine-induced impacts on a number of behavioural and physiological endpoints, inducing antipredator behaviour, reproduction, and foraging at or below field-detected concentrations. However, a 2014 review on the ecotoxicology of fluoxetine concluded that, at that time, a consensus on the ability of environmentally realistic dosages to affect the behaviour of wildlife could not be reached.

Politics

During the 1990 campaign for Governor of Florida, it was disclosed that one of the candidates, Lawton Chiles, had depression and had resumed taking fluoxetine, leading his political opponents to question his fitness to serve as Governor.

What is Neurosis?

Introduction

Neurosis is a class of functional mental disorders involving chronic distress, but neither delusions nor hallucinations. The term is no longer used by the professional psychiatric community in the United States, having been eliminated from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) in 1980 with the publication of DSM III. However, it is still used in the ICD-10 Chapter V F40-48.

Neurosis should not be mistaken for psychosis, which refers to a loss of touch with reality. Nor should it be mistaken for neuroticism, a fundamental personality trait proposed in the Big Five personality traits theory.

Etymology

The term is derived from the Greek word neuron (νεῦρον, ‘nerve’) and the suffix -osis (-ωσις, ‘diseased’ or ‘abnormal condition’).

The term neurosis was coined by Scottish doctor William Cullen in 1769 to refer to “disorders of sense and motion” caused by a “general affection of the nervous system.” Cullen used the term to describe various nervous disorders and symptoms that could not be explained physiologically. Physical features, however, were almost inevitably present, and physical diagnostic tests, such as exaggerated knee-jerks, loss of the gag reflex and dermatographia, were used into the 20th century. The meaning of the term was redefined by Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud over the early and middle 20th century, and has continued to be used in psychology and philosophy.

The DSM eliminated the neurosis category in 1980, because of a decision by its editors to provide descriptions of behaviour rather than descriptions of hidden psychological mechanisms. This change has been controversial. Likewise, according to the American Heritage Medical Dictionary, neurosis is “no longer used in psychiatric diagnosis.”

Symptoms and Causes

Neurosis may be defined simply as a “poor ability to adapt to one’s environment, an inability to change one’s life patterns, and the inability to develop a richer, more complex, more satisfying personality.” There are many different neuroses, including:

According to C. George Boeree, professor emeritus at Shippensburg University, the symptoms of neurosis may involve:

… anxiety, sadness or depression, anger, irritability, mental confusion, low sense of self-worth, etc., behavioral symptoms such as phobic avoidance, vigilance, impulsive and compulsive acts, lethargy, etc., cognitive problems such as unpleasant or disturbing thoughts, repetition of thoughts and obsession, habitual fantasizing, negativity and cynicism, etc. Interpersonally, neurosis involves dependency, aggressiveness, perfectionism, schizoid isolation, socio-culturally inappropriate behaviors, etc.

Jungian Theory

Carl Jung found his approach particularly effective for patients who are well adjusted by social standards but are troubled by existential questions. Jung claims to have “frequently seen people become neurotic when they content themselves with inadequate or wrong answers to the questions of life”. Accordingly, the majority of his patients “consisted not of believers but of those who had lost their faith”. Contemporary man, according to Jung,

…is blind to the fact that, with all his rationality and efficiency, he is possessed by ‘powers’ that are beyond his control. His gods and demons have not disappeared at all; they have merely got new names. They keep him on the run with restlessness, vague apprehensions, psychological complications, an insatiable need for pills, alcohol, tobacco, food — and, above all, a large array of neuroses.

Jung found that the unconscious finds expression primarily through an individual’s inferior psychological function, whether it is thinking, feeling, sensation, or intuition. The characteristic effects of a neurosis on the dominant and inferior functions are discussed in his Psychological Types. Jung also found collective neuroses in politics: “Our world is, so to speak, dissociated like a neurotic.”

Psychoanalytic Theory

According to psychoanalytic theory, neuroses may be rooted in ego defence mechanisms, though the two concepts are not synonymous. Defence mechanisms are a normal way of developing and maintaining a consistent sense of self (i.e. an ego). However, only those thoughts and behaviours that produce difficulties in one’s life should be called neuroses.

A neurotic person experiences emotional distress and unconscious conflict, which are manifested in various physical or mental illnesses; the definitive symptom being anxiety. Neurotic tendencies are common and may manifest themselves as acute or chronic anxiety, depression, an obsessive compulsive disorder, a phobia, or a personality disorder.

Horney’s Theory

In her final book, Neurosis and Human Growth, Karen Horney lays out a complete theory of the origin and dynamics of neurosis. In her theory, neurosis is a distorted way of looking at the world and at oneself, which is determined by compulsive needs rather than by a genuine interest in the world as it is. Horney proposes that neurosis is transmitted to a child from his or her early environment and that there are many ways in which this can occur:

When summarized, they all boil down to the fact that the people in the environment are too wrapped up in their own neuroses to be able to love the child, or even to conceive of him as the particular individual he is; their attitudes toward him are determined by their own neurotic needs and responses.

The child’s initial reality is then distorted by his or her parents’ needs and pretences. Growing up with neurotic caretakers, the child quickly becomes insecure and develops basic anxiety. To deal with this anxiety, the child’s imagination creates an idealised self-image:

Each person builds up his personal idealized image from the materials of his own special experiences, his earlier fantasies, his particular needs, and also his given faculties. If it were not for the personal character of the image, he would not attain a feeling of identity and unity. He idealizes, to begin with, his particular “solution” of his basic conflict: compliance becomes goodness, love, saintliness; aggressiveness becomes strength, leadership, heroism, omnipotence; aloofness becomes wisdom, self-sufficiency, independence. What—according to his particular solution—appear as shortcomings or flaws are always dimmed out or retouched.

Once he identifies himself with his idealised image, a number of effects follow. He will make claims on others and on life based on the prestige he feels entitled to because of his idealised self-image. He will impose a rigorous set of standards upon himself in order to try to measure up to that image. He will cultivate pride, and with that will come the vulnerabilities associated with pride that lacks any foundation. Finally, he will despise himself for all his limitations. Vicious circles will operate to strengthen all of these effects.

Eventually, as he grows to adulthood, a particular “solution” to all the inner conflicts and vulnerabilities will solidify. He will be either:

  • Expansive, displaying symptoms of narcissism, perfectionism, or vindictiveness;
  • Self-effacing and compulsively compliant, displaying symptoms of neediness or codependence; or
  • Resigned, displaying schizoid tendencies.

In Horney’s view, mild anxiety disorders and full-blown personality disorders all fall under her basic scheme of neurosis as variations in the degree of severity and in the individual dynamics. The opposite of neurosis is a condition Horney calls self-realisation, a state of being in which the person responds to the world with the full depth of his or her spontaneous feelings, rather than with anxiety-driven compulsion. Thus the person grows to actualize his or her inborn potentialities. Horney compares this process to an acorn that grows and becomes a tree: the acorn has had the potential for a tree inside it all along.

What is Exposure Therapy?

Introduction

Exposure therapy is a technique in behaviour therapy to treat anxiety disorders. Exposure therapy involves exposing the target patient to the anxiety source or its context without the intention to cause any danger. Doing so is thought to help them overcome their anxiety or distress. Procedurally, it is similar to the fear extinction paradigm developed studying laboratory rodents. Numerous studies have demonstrated its effectiveness in the treatment of disorders such as generalised anxiety disorder (GAD), social anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and specific phobias.

Brief History

The use of exposure as a mode of therapy began in the 1950s, at a time when psychodynamic views dominated Western clinical practice and behavioural therapy was first emerging. South African psychologists and psychiatrists first used exposure as a way to reduce pathological fears, such as phobias and anxiety-related problems, and they brought their methods to England in the Maudsley Hospital training programme.

Joseph Wolpe (1915-1997) was one of the first psychiatrists to spark interest in treating psychiatric problems as behavioural issues. He sought consultation with other behavioural psychologists, among them James G. Taylor (1897-1973), who worked in the psychology department of the University of Cape Town in South Africa. Although most of his work went unpublished, Taylor was the first psychologist known to use exposure therapy treatment for anxiety, including methods of situational exposure with response prevention – a common exposure therapy technique still being used. Since the 1950s several sorts of exposure therapy have been developed, including systematic desensitisation, flooding, implosive therapy, prolonged exposure therapy, in vivo exposure therapy, and imaginal exposure therapy.

Medical Uses

Generalised Anxiety Disorder

There is empirical evidence that exposure therapy can be an effective treatment for people with generalised anxiety disorder, citing specifically in vivo exposure therapy, which has greater effectiveness than imaginal exposure in regards to generalized anxiety disorder. The aim of in vivo exposure treatment is to promote emotional regulation using systematic and controlled therapeutic exposure to traumatic stimuli.

Phobia

Exposure therapy is the most successful known treatment for phobias. Several published meta-analyses included studies of one-to-three hour single-session treatments of phobias, using imaginal exposure. At a post-treatment follow-up four years later 90% of people retained a considerable reduction in fear, avoidance, and overall level of impairment, while 65% no longer experienced any symptoms of a specific phobia.

Agoraphobia and social anxiety disorder are examples of phobias that have been successfully treated by exposure therapy.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Virtual reality exposure (VRE) therapy is a modern but effective treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This method was tested on several active duty Army soldiers, using an immersive computer simulation of military settings over six sessions. Self-reported PTSD symptoms of these soldiers were greatly diminished following the treatment. Exposure therapy has shown promise in the treatment of co-morbid PTSD and substance abuse.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

Exposure and response prevention (also known as exposure and ritual prevention; ERP or EX/RP) is a variant of exposure therapy that is recommended by the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP), the American Psychiatric Association (APA), and the Mayo Clinic as first-line treatment of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) citing that it has the richest empirical support for both youth and adolescent outcomes.

ERP is predicated on the idea that a therapeutic effect is achieved as subjects confront their fears, but refrain from engaging in the escape response or ritual that delays or eliminates distress. In the case of individuals with OCD or an anxiety disorder, there is a thought or situation that causes distress. Individuals usually combat this distress through specific behaviours that include avoidance or rituals. However, ERP involves purposefully evoking fear, anxiety, and or distress in the individual by exposing him/her to the feared stimulus. The response prevention then involves having the individual refrain from the ritualistic or otherwise compulsive behaviour that functions to decrease distress. The patient is then taught to tolerate distress until it fades away on its own, thereby learning that rituals are not always necessary to decrease distress or anxiety. Over repeated practice of ERP, patients with OCD expect to find that they can have obsessive thoughts and images but not have the need to engage in compulsive rituals to decrease distress.

The AACAP’s practise parameters for OCD recommends cognitive behavioural therapy, and more specifically ERP, as first line treatment for youth with mild to moderate severity OCD and combination psychotherapy and pharmacotherapy for severe OCD. The Cochrane Review’s examinations of different randomised control trials echoes repeated findings of the superiority of ERP over waitlist control or pill-placebos, the superiority of combination ERP and pharmacotherapy, but similar effect sizes of efficacy between ERP or pharmacotherapy alone.

Techniques

Exposure therapy is based on the principle of respondent conditioning often termed Pavlovian extinction. The exposure therapist identifies the cognitions, emotions and physiological arousal that accompany a fear-inducing stimulus and then tries to break the pattern of escape that maintains the fear. This is done by exposing the patient to progressively stronger fear-inducing stimuli. Fear is minimised at each of a series of steadily escalating steps or challenges (a hierarchy), which can be explicit (“static”) or implicit (“dynamic” – refer to Method of Factors) until the fear is finally gone. The patient is able to terminate the procedure at any time.

There are three types of exposure procedures. The first is in vivo or “real life.” This type exposes the patient to actual fear-inducing situations. For example, if someone fears public speaking, the person may be asked to give a speech to a small group of people. The second type of exposure is imaginal, where patients are asked to imagine a situation that they are afraid of. This procedure is helpful for people who need to confront feared thoughts and memories. The third type of exposure is interoceptive, which may be used for more specific disorders such as panic or post-traumatic stress disorder. Patients confront feared bodily symptoms such as increased heart rate and shortness of breath. All types of exposure may be used together or separately.

While evidence clearly supports the effectiveness of exposure therapy, some clinicians are uncomfortable using imaginal exposure therapy, especially in cases of PTSD. They may not understand it, are not confident in their own ability to use it, or more commonly, they see significant contraindications for their client.

Flooding therapy also exposes the patient to feared stimuli, but it is quite distinct in that flooding starts at the most feared item in a fear hierarchy, while exposure starts at the least fear-inducing.

Exposure and Response Prevention

In the exposure and response prevention (ERP or EX/RP) variation of exposure therapy, the resolution to refrain from the escape response is to be maintained at all times and not just during specific practice sessions. Thus, not only does the subject experience habituation to the feared stimulus, but they also practice a fear-incompatible behavioural response to the stimulus. The distinctive feature is that individuals confront their fears and discontinue their escape response. The American Psychiatric Association recommends ERP for the treatment of OCD, citing that ERP has the richest empirical support.

While this type of therapy typically causes some short-term anxiety, this facilitates long-term reduction in obsessive and compulsive symptoms. Generally, ERP incorporates a relapse prevention plan toward the end of the course of therapy.

Mindfulness

A 2015 review pointed out parallels between exposure therapy and mindfulness, stating that mindful meditation “resembles an exposure situation because [mindfulness] practitioners ‘turn towards their emotional experience’, bring acceptance to bodily and affective responses, and refrain from engaging in internal reactivity towards it.” Imaging studies have shown that the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, hippocampus, and the amygdala are all affected by exposure therapy; imaging studies have shown similar activity in these regions with mindfulness training.

Research

Exposure therapy can be investigated in the laboratory using Pavlovian extinction paradigms. Using rodents such as rats or mice to study extinction allows for the investigation of underlying neurobiological mechanisms involved, as well as testing of pharmacological adjuncts to improve extinction learning.

What is Schizophrenia?

Introduction

Schizophrenia is a psychiatric disorder characterised by continuous or relapsing episodes of psychosis. Major symptoms include hallucinations (typically hearing voices), delusions, and disorganised thinking. Other symptoms include social withdrawal, decreased emotional expression, and apathy. Symptoms typically come on gradually, begin in young adulthood, and in many cases never resolve. There is no objective diagnostic test; diagnosis is based on:

  • Observed behaviour;
  • A history that includes the person’s reported experiences; and
  • Reports of others familiar with the person.

To be diagnosed with schizophrenia, symptoms and functional impairment need to be present for six months (DSM-5) or one month (ICD-11). Many people with schizophrenia have other mental disorders that often includes an anxiety disorder such as panic disorder, an obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), or a substance use disorder.

About 0.3% to 0.7% of people are affected by schizophrenia during their lifetime. In 2017, there were an estimated 1.1 million new cases and in 2019 a total of 20 million cases globally. Males are more often affected and on average have an earlier onset. The causes of schizophrenia include genetic and environmental factors. Genetic factors include a variety of common and rare genetic variants. Possible environmental factors include being raised in a city, cannabis use during adolescence, infections, the ages of a person’s mother or father, and poor nutrition during pregnancy.

About half of those diagnosed with schizophrenia will have a significant improvement over the long term with no further relapses, and a small proportion of these will recover completely. The other half will have a lifelong impairment, and severe cases may be repeatedly admitted to hospital. Social problems such as long-term unemployment, poverty, homelessness, exploitation, and victimisation are common consequences of schizophrenia. Compared to the general population, people with schizophrenia have a higher suicide rate (about 5% overall) and more physical health problems, leading to an average decrease in life expectancy by 20 years. In 2015, an estimated 17,000 deaths were caused by schizophrenia.

The mainstay of treatment is antipsychotic medication, along with counselling, job training, and social rehabilitation. Up to a third of people do not respond to initial antipsychotics, in which case the antipsychotic clozapine may be used. In situations where there is a risk of harm to self or others, a short involuntary hospitalisation may be necessary. Long-term hospitalisation may be needed for a small number of people with severe schizophrenia. In countries where supportive services are limited or unavailable, long-term hospital stays are more typical.

Epidemiology

In 2017, the Global Burden of Disease Study estimated there were 1.1 million new cases, and in 2019 the World Health Organisation (WHO) reported a total of 20 million cases globally. Schizophrenia affects around 0.3-0.7% of people at some point in their life. It occurs 1.4 times more frequently in males than females and typically appears earlier in men – the peak ages of onset are 25 years for males and 27 years for females. Onset in childhood, before the age of 13 can sometimes occur. A later onset can occur between the ages of 40 and 60, known as late onset, and also after 60 known as very late onset.

Worldwide, schizophrenia is the most common psychotic disorder. The frequency of schizophrenia varies across the world, within countries, and at the local and neighbourhood level. This variation has been estimated to be fivefold. It causes approximately 1% of worldwide disability adjusted life years and resulted in 17,000 deaths in 2015.

In 2000, the WHO found the percentage of people affected and the number of new cases that develop each year is roughly similar around the world, with age-standardised prevalence per 100,000 ranging from 343 in Africa to 544 in Japan and Oceania for men, and from 378 in Africa to 527 in Southeastern Europe for women. About 1.1% of adults have schizophrenia in the United States. However, in areas of conflict this figure can rise to between 4.0 and 6.5%.

Brief History

Accounts of a schizophrenia-like syndrome are rare in records before the 19th century. The earliest cases detailed were reported in 1797, and 1809. Dementia praecox, meaning premature dementia was used by German psychiatrist Heinrich Schüle in 1886, and then in 1891 by Arnold Pick in a case report of hebephrenia. In 1893 Emil Kraepelin used the term in making a distinction, known as the Kraepelinian dichotomy, between the two psychoses – dementia praecox, and manic depression (now called bipolar disorder). Kraepelin believed that dementia praecox was probably caused by a systemic disease that affected many organs and nerves, affecting the brain after puberty in a final decisive cascade. It was thought to be an early form of dementia, a degenerative disease. When it became evident that the disorder was not degenerative it was renamed schizophrenia by Eugen Bleuler in 1908.

The word schizophrenia translates roughly as “splitting of the mind” and is Modern Latin from the Greek roots schizein (σχίζειν, “to split”) and phrēn, (φρεν, “mind”) Its use was intended to describe the separation of function between personality, thinking, memory, and perception.

The term schizophrenia used to be associated with split personality by the general population but that usage went into decline when split personality became known as a separate disorder, first as multiple identity disorder , and later as dissociative identity disorder. In 2002 in Japan the name was changed to integration disorder, and in 2012 in South Korea, the name was changed to attunement disorder to reduce the stigma, both with good results.

In the early 20th century, the psychiatrist Kurt Schneider listed the psychotic symptoms of schizophrenia into two groups of hallucinations, and delusions. The hallucinations were listed as specific to auditory, and the delusional included thought disorders. These were seen as the symptoms of first-rank importance and were termed first-rank symptoms. Whilst these were also sometimes seen to be relevant to the psychosis in manic-depression, they were highly suggestive of schizophrenia and typically referred to as first-rank symptoms of schizophrenia. The most common first-rank symptom was found to belong to thought disorders. In 2013 the first-rank symptoms were excluded from the DSM-5 criteria. First-rank symptoms are seen to be of limited use in detecting schizophrenia but may be of help in differential diagnosis.]

The earliest attempts to treat schizophrenia were psychosurgical, involving either the removal of brain tissue from different regions or the severing of pathways. These were notably frontal lobotomies and cingulotomies which were carried out from the 1930s. In the 1930s a number of shock therapies were introduced which induced seizures (convulsions) or comas. Insulin shock therapy involved the injecting of large doses of insulin in order to induce comas, which in turn produced hypoglycaemia and convulsions. The use of electricity to induce seizures was developed, and in use as electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) by 1938. Stereotactic surgeries were developed in the 1940s. Treatment was revolutionized in the mid-1950s with the development and introduction of the first typical antipsychotic, chlorpromazine. In the 1970s the first atypical antipsychotic clozapine, was introduced followed by the introduction of others.

In the early 1970s in the US, the diagnostic model used for schizophrenia was broad and clinically-based using DSM II. It had been noted that schizophrenia was diagnosed far more in the US than in Europe which had been using the ICD-9 criteria. The US model was criticised for failing to demarcate clearly those people with a mental illness, and those without. In 1980 DSM III was published and showed a shift in focus from the clinically-based biopsychosocial model to a reason-based medical model. DSM IV showed an increased focus to an evidence-based medical model.

Subtypes of schizophrenia classified as paranoid, disorganized, catatonic, undifferentiated, and residual type were difficult to distinguish between and are no longer recognised as separate conditions by DSM-5 (2013) or ICD-11.

Signs and Symptoms

Schizophrenia is a mental disorder characterized by significant alterations in perception, thoughts, mood, and behaviour. Symptoms are described in terms of positive, and negative, and cognitive symptoms. The positive symptoms of schizophrenia are the same for any psychosis and are sometimes referred to as psychotic symptoms. These may be present in any of the different psychoses, and are often transient making early diagnosis of schizophrenia problematic. Psychosis noted for the first time in a person who is later diagnosed with schizophrenia is referred to as a first-episode psychosis (FEP).

Positive Symptoms

Positive symptoms are those symptoms that are not normally experienced, but are present in people during a psychotic episode in schizophrenia. They include delusions, hallucinations, and disorganised thoughts and speech, typically regarded as manifestations of psychosis. Hallucinations most commonly involve the sense of hearing as hearing voices but can sometimes involve any of the other senses of taste, sight, smell, and touch. They are also typically related to the content of the delusional theme. Delusions are bizarre or persecutory in nature. Distortions of self-experience such as feeling as if one’s thoughts or feelings are not really one’s own, to believing that thoughts are being inserted into one’s mind, sometimes termed passivity phenomena, are also common. Thought disorders can include thought blocking, and disorganised speech – speech that is not understandable is known as word salad. Positive symptoms generally respond well to medication, and become reduced over the course of the illness, perhaps related to the age-related decline in dopamine activity.

Negative Symptoms

Negative symptoms are deficits of normal emotional responses, or of other thought processes. The five recognised domains of negative symptoms are:

  • Blunted affect: showing flat expressions or little emotion;
  • Alogia: a poverty of speech;
  • Anhedonia: an inability to feel pleasure;
  • Asociality: the lack of desire to form relationships; and
  • Avolition: a lack of motivation and apathy.

Avolition and anhedonia are seen as motivational deficits resulting from impaired reward processing. Reward is the main driver of motivation and this is mostly mediated by dopamine. It has been suggested that negative symptoms are multidimensional and they have been categorised into two subdomains of apathy or lack of motivation, and diminished expression. Apathy includes avolition, anhedonia, and social withdrawal; diminished expression includes blunt effect, and alogia. Sometimes diminished expression is treated as both verbal and non-verbal. Apathy accounts for around 50% of the most often found negative symptoms and affects functional outcome and subsequent quality of life. Apathy is related to disrupted cognitive processing affecting memory and planning including goal-directed behaviour. The two subdomains has suggested a need for separate treatment approaches. A lack of distress – relating to a reduced experience of depression and anxiety is another noted negative symptom. A distinction is often made between those negative symptoms that are inherent to schizophrenia, termed primary; and those that result from positive symptoms, from the side effects of antipsychotics, substance abuse, and social deprivation – termed secondary negative symptoms. Negative symptoms are less responsive to medication and the most difficult to treat. However if properly assessed, secondary negative symptoms are amenable to treatment.

Scales for specifically assessing the presence of negative symptoms, and for measuring their severity, and their changes have been introduced since the earlier scales such as the PANNS that deals with all types of symptoms. These scales are the Clinical Assessment Interview for Negative Symptoms (CAINS), and the Brief Negative Symptom Scale (BNSS) also known as second-generation scales. In 2020, ten years after its introduction a cross-cultural study of the use of BNSS found valid and reliable psychometric evidence for the five-domain structure cross-culturally. The BNSS is designed to assess both the presence and severity and change of negative symptoms of the five recognised domains, and the additional item of reduced normal distress. BNSS can register changes in negative symptoms in relation to psychosocial and pharmacological intervention trials. BNSS has also been used to study a proposed non-D2 treatment called SEP-363856. Findings supported the favouring of five domains over the two-dimensional proposition.

Cognitive Symptoms

Cognitive deficits are the earliest and most constantly found symptoms in schizophrenia. They are often evident long before the onset of illness in the prodromal stage, and may be present in early adolescence, or childhood. They are a core feature but not considered to be core symptoms, as are positive and negative symptoms. However, their presence and degree of dysfunction is taken as a better indicator of functionality than the presentation of core symptoms. Cognitive deficits become worse at first episode psychosis but then return to baseline, and remain fairly stable over the course of the illness.

The deficits in cognition are seen to drive the negative psychosocial outcome in schizophrenia, and are claimed to equate to a possible reduction in IQ from the norm of 100 to 70-85. Cognitive deficits may be of neurocognition (non-social) or of social cognition. Neurocognition is the ability to receive and remember information, and includes verbal fluency, memory, reasoning, problem solving, speed of processing, and auditory and visual perception. Verbal memory and attention are seen to be the most affected. Verbal memory impairment is associated with a decreased level of semantic processing (relating meaning to words). Another memory impairment is that of episodic memory. An impairment in visual perception that is consistently found in schizophrenia is that of visual backward masking. Visual processing impairments include an inability to perceive complex visual illusions. Social cognition is concerned with the mental operations needed to interpret, and understand the self and others in the social world. This is also an associated impairment, and facial emotion perception is often found to be difficult. Facial perception is critical for ordinary social interaction. Cognitive impairments do not usually respond to antipsychotics, and there are a number of interventions that are used to try to improve them; cognitive remediation therapy has been found to be of particular help.

Onset

Onset typically occurs between the late teens and early 30s, with the peak incidence occurring in males in the early to mid twenties, and in females in the late twenties. Onset before the age of 17 is known as early-onset, and before the age of 13, as can sometimes occur, is known as childhood schizophrenia or very early-onset. A later stage of onset can occur between the ages of 40 and 60, known as late-onset schizophrenia. A later onset over the age of 60, which may be difficult to differentiate as schizophrenia, is known as very-late-onset schizophrenia-like psychosis. Late onset has shown that a higher rate of females are affected; they have less severe symptoms and need lower doses of antipsychotics. The tendency for earlier onset in males is later seen to be balanced by a post-menopausal increase in the development in females. Oestrogen produced pre-menopause has a dampening effect on dopamine receptors but its protection can be overridden by a genetic overload. There has been a dramatic increase in the numbers of older adults with schizophrenia. An estimated 70% of those with schizophrenia have cognitive deficits, and these are most pronounced in early onset and late-onset illness.

Onset may happen suddenly or may occur after the slow and gradual development of a number of signs and symptoms, a period known as the prodromal stage. Up to 75% of those with schizophrenia go through a prodromal stage. The negative and cognitive symptoms in the prodrome stage can precede FEP by many months and up to five years. The period from FEP and treatment is known as the duration of untreated psychosis (DUP) which is seen to be a factor in functional outcome. The prodromal stage is the high-risk stage for the development of psychosis. Since the progression to first episode psychosis is not inevitable, an alternative term is often preferred of at risk mental state Cognitive dysfunction at an early age impact a young person’s usual cognitive development. Recognition and early intervention at the prodromal stage would minimize the associated disruption to educational and social development and has been the focus of many studies. It is suggested that the use of anti-inflammatory compounds such as D-serine may prevent the transition to schizophrenia. Cognitive symptoms are not secondary to positive symptoms or to the side effects of antipsychotics.

Cognitive impairments in the prodromal stage become worse after first episode psychosis (after which they return to baseline and then remain fairly stable), making early intervention to prevent such transition of prime importance. Early treatment with cognitive behavioural therapies are the gold standard. Neurological soft signs of clumsiness and loss of fine motor movement are often found in schizophrenia, which may resolve with effective treatment of FEP.

Risk Factors

Schizophrenia is described as a neurodevelopmental disorder with no precise boundary, or single cause, and is thought to develop from gene-environment interactions with involved vulnerability factors. The interactions of these risk factors are complex, as numerous and diverse insults from conception to adulthood can be involved. A genetic predisposition on its own, without interacting environmental factors, will not give rise to the development of schizophrenia. The genetic component means that prenatally brain development is disturbed, and environmental influence affects the postnatal development of the brain. Evidence suggests that genetically susceptible children are more likely to be vulnerable to the effects of environmental risk factors.

Genetic

Estimates of the heritability of schizophrenia are between 70% and 80%, which implies that 70% to 80% of the individual differences in risk to schizophrenia is associated with genetics. These estimates vary because of the difficulty in separating genetic and environmental influences, and their accuracy has been queried. The greatest risk factor for developing schizophrenia is having a first-degree relative with the disease (risk is 6.5%); more than 40% of identical twins of those with schizophrenia are also affected. If one parent is affected the risk is about 13% and if both are affected the risk is nearly 50%. However, DSM-5 points out that most people with schizophrenia have no family history of psychosis. Results of candidate gene studies of schizophrenia have generally failed to find consistent associations, and the genetic loci identified by genome-wide association studies explain only a small fraction of the variation in the disease.

Many genes are known to be involved in schizophrenia, each with small effect and unknown transmission and expression. The summation of these effect sizes into a polygenic risk score can explain at least 7% of the variability in liability for schizophrenia. Around 5% of cases of schizophrenia are understood to be at least partially attributable to rare copy-number variations (CNVs); these structural variations are associated with known genomic disorders involving deletions at 22q11.2 (DiGeorge syndrome), duplications at 16p11.2 16p11.2 duplication (most frequently found) and deletions at 15q11.2 (Burnside-Butler syndrome). Some of these CNVs increase the risk of developing schizophrenia by as much as 20-fold, and are frequently comorbid with autism and intellectual disabilities.

The genes CRHR1 and CRHBP have been shown to be associated with a severity of suicidal behaviour. These genes code for stress response proteins needed in the control of the HPA axis, and their interaction can affect this axis. Response to stress can cause lasting changes in the function of the HPA axis possibly disrupting the negative feedback mechanism, homeostasis, and the regulation of emotion leading to altered behaviours.

The question of how schizophrenia could be primarily genetically influenced, given that people with schizophrenia have lower fertility rates, is a paradox. It is expected that genetic variants that increase the risk of schizophrenia would be selected against due to their negative effects on reproductive fitness. A number of potential explanations have been proposed, including that alleles associated with schizophrenia risk confers a fitness advantage in unaffected individuals. While some evidence has not supported this idea, others propose that a large number of alleles each contributing a small amount can persist.

Environmental

Environmental factors, each associated with a slight risk of developing schizophrenia in later life include oxygen deprivation, infection, prenatal maternal stress, and malnutrition in the mother during prenatal development. A risk is also associated with maternal obesity, in increasing oxidative stress, and dysregulating the dopamine and serotonin pathways. Both maternal stress and infection have been demonstrated to alter foetal neurodevelopment through an increase of pro-inflammatory cytokines. There is a slighter risk associated with being born in the winter or spring possibly due to vitamin D deficiency or a prenatal viral infection. Other infections during pregnancy or around the time of birth that have been linked to an increased risk include infections by Toxoplasma gondii and Chlamydia. The increased risk is about 5-8%. Viral infections of the brain during childhood are also linked to a risk of schizophrenia during adulthood.

Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), severe forms of which are classed as childhood trauma, range from being bullied or abused, to the death of a parent. Many adverse childhood experiences can cause toxic stress and increase the risk of psychosis. Chronic trauma can promote lasting inflammatory dysregulation throughout the nervous system. It is suggested that early stress may contribute to the development of schizophrenia through these alterations in the immune system. Schizophrenia was the last diagnosis to benefit from the link made between ACEs and adult mental health outcomes.

Living in an urban environment during childhood or as an adult has consistently been found to increase the risk of schizophrenia by a factor of two, even after taking into account drug use, ethnic group, and size of social group. A possible link between the urban environment and pollution has been suggested to be the cause of the elevated risk of schizophrenia.

Other risk factors of importance include social isolation, immigration related to social adversity and racial discrimination, family dysfunction, unemployment, and poor housing conditions. Having a father older than 40 years, or parents younger than 20 years are also associated with schizophrenia. It has been suggested that apart from gene-environment interactions, environment-environment interactions also be taken into account as each environmental risk factor on its own is not enough.

Substance Use

About half of those with schizophrenia use recreational drugs, including cannabis, tobacco, and alcohol excessively. Use of stimulants such as amphetamine and cocaine can lead to a temporary stimulant psychosis, which presents very similarly to schizophrenia. Rarely, alcohol use can also result in a similar alcohol-related psychosis. Drugs may also be used as coping mechanisms by people who have schizophrenia, to deal with depression, anxiety, boredom, and loneliness. The use of cannabis and tobacco are not associated with the development of cognitive deficits, and sometimes a reverse relationship is found where their use improves these symptoms. However, substance abuse is associated with an increased risk of suicide, and a poor response to treatment.

Cannabis-use may be a contributory factor in the development of schizophrenia, potentially increasing the risk of the disease in those who are already at risk. The increased risk may require the presence of certain genes within an individual. Its use is associated with doubling the rate. The use of more potent strains of cannabis having a high level of its active ingredient tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), increases the risk further. One of these strains is well known as skunk.

Mechanisms

The mechanisms of schizophrenia are unknown, and a number of models have been put forward to explain the link between altered brain function and schizophrenia. The prevailing model of schizophrenia is that of a neurodevelopmental disorder, and the underlying changes that occur before symptoms become evident are seen as arising from the interaction between genes and the environment. Extensive studies support this model. Maternal infections, malnutrition and complications during pregnancy and childbirth are known risk factors for the development of schizophrenia, which usually emerges between the ages of 18-25 a period that overlaps with certain stages of neurodevelopment. Gene-environment interactions lead to deficits in the neural circuitry that affect sensory and cognitive functions.

The common dopamine and glutamate models proposed are not mutually exclusive; each is seen to have a role in the neurobiology of schizophrenia. The most common model put forward was the dopamine hypothesis of schizophrenia, which attributes psychosis to the mind’s faulty interpretation of the misfiring of dopaminergic neurons. This has been directly related to the symptoms of delusions and hallucinations. Abnormal dopamine signalling has been implicated in schizophrenia based on the usefulness of medications that affect the dopamine receptor and the observation that dopamine levels are increased during acute psychosis. A decrease in D1 receptors in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex may also be responsible for deficits in working memory.

The glutamate hypothesis of schizophrenia links alterations between glutamatergic neurotransmission and the neural oscillations that affect connections between the thalamus and the cortex. Studies have shown that a reduced expression of a glutamate receptor – NMDA receptor, and glutamate blocking drugs such as phencyclidine and ketamine can mimic the symptoms and cognitive problems associated with schizophrenia. Post-mortem studies consistently find that a subset of these neurons fail to express GAD67 (GAD1), in addition to abnormalities in brain morphometry. The subsets of interneurons that are abnormal in schizophrenia are responsible for the synchronising of neural ensembles needed during working memory tasks. These give the neural oscillations produced as gamma waves that have a frequency of between 30 and 80 hertz. Both working memory tasks and gamma waves are impaired in schizophrenia, which may reflect abnormal interneuron functionality.

Deficits in executive functions, such as planning, inhibition, and working memory, are pervasive in schizophrenia. Although these functions are separable, their dysfunction in schizophrenia may reflect an underlying deficit in the ability to represent goal related information in working memory, and to utilize this to direct cognition and behaviour. These impairments have been linked to a number of neuroimaging and neuropathological abnormalities. For example, functional neuroimaging studies report evidence of reduced neural processing efficiency, whereby the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex is activated to a greater degree to achieve a certain level of performance relative to controls on working memory tasks. These abnormalities may be linked to the consistent post-mortem finding of reduced neuropil, evidenced by increased pyramidal cell density and reduced dendritic spine density. These cellular and functional abnormalities may also be reflected in structural neuroimaging studies that find reduced grey matter volume in association with deficits in working memory tasks.

Positive symptoms have been linked to cortical thinning in the superior temporal gyrus. Severity of negative symptoms has been linked to reduced thickness in the left medial orbitofrontal cortex. Anhedonia, traditionally defined as a reduced capacity to experience pleasure, is frequently reported in schizophrenia. However, a large body of evidence suggests that hedonic responses are intact in schizophrenia, and that what is reported to be anhedonia is a reflection of dysfunction in other processes related to reward. Overall, a failure of reward prediction is thought to lead to impairment in the generation of cognition and behaviour required to obtain rewards, despite normal hedonic responses.

It has been hypothesized that in some people, development of schizophrenia is related to intestinal tract dysfunction such as seen with non-celiac gluten sensitivity or abnormalities in the gut microbiota. A subgroup of persons with schizophrenia present an immune response to gluten differently from that found in people with celiac, with elevated levels of certain serum biomarkers of gluten sensitivity such as anti-gliadin IgG or anti-gliadin IgA antibodies.

Another theory links abnormal brain lateralization to the development of being left-handed which is significantly more common in those with schizophrenia. This abnormal development of hemispheric asymmetry is noted in schizophrenia. Studies have concluded that the link is a true and verifiable effect that may reflect a genetic link between lateralisation and schizophrenia.

An important process that may be disrupted in neurodevelopment is astrogenesis – the formation of astrocytes. Astrocytes are crucial in contributing to the formation and maintenance of neural circuits and it is believed that disruption in this role can result in a number of neurodevelopmental disorders including schizophrenia.

Bayesian models of brain functioning have been utilised to link abnormalities in cellular functioning to symptoms. Both hallucinations and delusions have been suggested to reflect improper encoding of prior expectations, thereby causing expectation to excessively influence sensory perception and the formation of beliefs. In approved models of circuits that mediate predictive coding, reduced NMDA receptor activation, could in theory result in the positive symptoms of delusions and hallucinations.

Diagnosis

Refer to Diagnosis of Schizophrenia.

There is no objective test or biomarker to confirm diagnosis. Psychoses can occur in several conditions and are often transient making early diagnosis of schizophrenia difficult. Psychosis noted for the first time in a person that is later diagnosed with schizophrenia is referred to as a first-episode psychosis (FEP).

Criteria

Schizophrenia is diagnosed based on criteria in either the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) published by the American Psychiatric Association or the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD) published by the World Health Organization. These criteria use the self-reported experiences of the person and reported abnormalities in behaviour, followed by a psychiatric assessment. The mental status examination is an important part of the assessment. An established tool for assessing the severity of positive and negative symptoms is the Positive and Negative Syndrome Scale (PANSS). This has been seen to have shortcomings relating to negative symptoms, and other scales – the Clinical Assessment Interview for Negative Symptoms (CAINS), and the Brief Negative Symptoms Scale (BNSS) have been introduced. The DSM-5, published in 2013, gives a Scale to Assess the Severity of Symptom Dimensions outlining eight dimensions of symptoms.

DSM-5 states that to be diagnosed with schizophrenia, two diagnostic criteria have to be met over the period of one month, with a significant impact on social or occupational functioning for at least six months. One of the symptoms needs to be either delusions, hallucinations, or disorganised speech. A second symptom could be one of the negative symptoms, or severely disorganised or catatonic behaviour. A different diagnosis of schizophreniform disorder can be made before the six months needed for the diagnosis of schizophrenia.

In Australia the guideline for diagnosis is for six months or more with symptoms severe enough to affect ordinary functioning. In the UK diagnosis is based on having the symptoms for most of the time for one month, with symptoms that significantly affect the ability to work, study, or to carry on ordinary daily living, and with other similar conditions ruled out.

The ICD criteria are typically used in European countries; the DSM criteria are used predominantly in the United States and Canada, and are prevailing in research studies. In practice, agreement between the two systems is high. The current proposal for the ICD-11 criteria for schizophrenia recommends adding self-disorder as a symptom.

A major unresolved difference between the two diagnostic systems is that of the requirement in DSM of an impaired functional outcome. WHO for ICD argues that not all people with schizophrenia have functional deficits and so these are not specific for the diagnosis.

Changes Made

Both manuals have adopted the chapter heading of Schizophrenia spectrum and other psychotic disorders; ICD modifying this as Schizophrenia spectrum and other primary psychotic disorders. The definition of schizophrenia remains essentially the same as that specified by the 2000 text revised DSM-IV (DSM-IV-TR). However, with the publication of DSM-5, the APA removed all sub-classifications of schizophrenia. ICD-11 has also removed subtypes. The removed subtype from both, of catatonic has been relisted in ICD-11 as a psychomotor disturbance that may be present in schizophrenia.

Another major change was to remove the importance previously given to Schneider’s first-rank symptoms. DSM-5 still uses the listing of schizophreniform disorder but ICD-11 no longer includes it. DSM-5 also recommends that a better distinction be made between a current condition of schizophrenia and its historical progress, to achieve a clearer overall characterisation.

A dimensional assessment has been included in DSM-5 covering eight dimensions of symptoms to be rated (using the Scale to Assess the Severity of Symptom Dimensions) – these include the five diagnostic criteria plus cognitive impairments, mania, and depression. This can add relevant information for the individual in regard to treatment, prognosis, and functional outcome; it also enables the response to treatment to be more accurately described.

Two of the negative symptoms – avolition and diminished emotional expression, have been given more prominence in both manuals.

Comorbidities

Many people with schizophrenia may have one or more other mental disorders, such as panic disorder, OCD, or substance use disorder. These are separate disorders that require treatment. When comorbid with schizophrenia, substance use disorder and antisocial personality disorder both increase the risk for violence. Comorbid substance abuse also increases risk for suicide.

Sleep disorders often co-occur with schizophrenia, and may be an early sign of relapse. Sleep disorders are linked with positive symptoms such as disorganised thinking and can adversely affect cortical plasticity and cognition. The consolidation of memories is disrupted in sleep disorders. They are associated with severity of illness, a poor prognosis, and poor quality of life. Sleep onset and maintenance insomnia is a common symptom, regardless of whether treatment has been received or not. Genetic variations have been found associated with these conditions involving the circadian rhythm, dopamine and histamine metabolism, and signal transduction. Limited positive evidence has been found for the use of acupuncture as an add-on.

Differential Diagnosis

To make a diagnosis of schizophrenia other possible causes of psychosis need to be excluded. Psychotic symptoms lasting less than a month may be diagnosed as brief psychotic disorder, or as schizophreniform disorder. Psychosis is noted in Other specified schizophrenia spectrum and other psychotic disorders as a DSM-5 category. Schizoaffective disorder is diagnosed if symptoms of mood disorder are substantially present alongside psychotic symptoms. Psychosis that results from a general medical condition or substance is termed secondary psychosis. Psychotic symptoms may be present in several other conditions, including bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, substance intoxication, substance-induced psychosis, and a number of drug withdrawal syndromes. Non-bizarre delusions are also present in delusional disorder, and social withdrawal in social anxiety disorder, avoidant personality disorder and schizotypal personality disorder. Schizotypal personality disorder has symptoms that are similar but less severe than those of schizophrenia. Schizophrenia occurs along with OCD considerably more often than could be explained by chance, although it can be difficult to distinguish obsessions that occur in OCD from the delusions of schizophrenia. There can be considerable overlap with the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

A more general medical and neurological examination may be needed to rule out medical illnesses which may rarely produce psychotic schizophrenia-like symptoms, such as metabolic disturbance, systemic infection, syphilis, HIV-associated neurocognitive disorder, epilepsy, limbic encephalitis, and brain lesions. Stroke, multiple sclerosis, hyperthyroidism, hypothyroidism, and dementias such as Alzheimer’s disease, Huntington’s disease, frontotemporal dementia, and the Lewy body dementias may also be associated with schizophrenia-like psychotic symptoms. It may be necessary to rule out a delirium, which can be distinguished by visual hallucinations, acute onset and fluctuating level of consciousness, and indicates an underlying medical illness. Investigations are not generally repeated for relapse unless there is a specific medical indication or possible adverse effects from antipsychotic medication. In children hallucinations must be separated from typical childhood fantasies. It is difficult to distinguish childhood schizophrenia from autism.

Prevention

Prevention of schizophrenia is difficult as there are no reliable markers for the later development of the disorder. There is tentative though inconclusive evidence for the effectiveness of early intervention to prevent schizophrenia in the prodrome phase. There is some evidence that early intervention in those with first-episode psychosis may improve short-term outcomes, but there is little benefit from these measures after five years. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) may reduce the risk of psychosis in those at high risk after a year and is recommended in this group, by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). Another preventive measure is to avoid drugs that have been associated with development of the disorder, including cannabis, cocaine, and amphetamines.

Antipsychotics are prescribed following a first-episode psychosis, and following remission a preventive maintenance use is continued to avoid relapse. However, it is recognised that some people do recover following a single episode and that long-term use of antipsychotics will not be needed but there is no way of identifying this group.

Management

The primary treatment of schizophrenia is the use of antipsychotic medications, often in combination with psychosocial interventions and social supports. Community support services including drop-in centres, visits by members of a community mental health team, supported employment, and support groups are common. The time between the onset of psychotic symptoms to being given treatment – the duration of untreated psychosis (DUP) is associated with a poorer outcome in both the short term and the long term.

Voluntary or involuntary admittance to hospital may be needed to treat a severe episode, however, hospital stays are as short as possible. In the UK large mental hospitals termed asylums began to be closed down in the 1950s with the advent of antipsychotics, and with an awareness of the negative impact of long-term hospital stays on recovery. This process was known as deinstitutionalisation, and community and supportive services were developed in order to support this change. Many other countries followed suit with the US starting in the 60s. There will still remain a few people who do not improve enough to be discharged. In those countries that lack the necessary supportive and social services long-term hospital stays are more usual.

Medication

The first-line treatment for schizophrenia is an antipsychotic. The first-generation antipsychotics, now called typical antipsychotics, are dopamine antagonists that block D2 receptors, and affect the neurotransmission of dopamine. Those brought out later, the second-generation antipsychotics known as atypical antipsychotics, can also have effect on another neurotransmitter, serotonin. Antipsychotics can reduce the symptoms of anxiety within hours of their use but for other symptoms they may take several days or weeks to reach their full effect. They have little effect on negative and cognitive symptoms, which may be helped by additional psychotherapies and medications. There is no single antipsychotic suitable for first-line treatment for everyone, as responses and tolerances vary between people. Stopping medication may be considered after a single psychotic episode where there has been a full recovery with no symptoms for twelve months. Repeated relapses worsen the long-term outlook and the risk of relapse following a second episode is high, and long-term treatment is usually recommended.

Tobacco smoking increases the metabolism of some antipsychotics, by strongly activating CYP1A2, the enzyme that breaks them down, and a significant difference is found in these levels between smokers and non-smokers. It is recommended that the dosage for those smokers on clozapine be increased by 50%, and for those on olanzapine by 30%. The result of stopping smoking can lead to an increased concentration of the antipsychotic that may result in toxicity, so that monitoring of effects would need to take place with a view to decreasing the dosage; many symptoms may be noticeably worsened, and extreme fatigue, and seizures are also possible with a risk of relapse. Likewise those who resume smoking may need their dosages adjusted accordingly. The altering effects are due to compounds in tobacco smoke and not to nicotine; the use of nicotine replacement therapy therefore has the equivalent effect of stopping smoking and monitoring would still be needed.

About 30-50% of people with schizophrenia fail to accept that they have an illness or comply with their recommended treatment. For those who are unwilling or unable to take medication regularly, long-acting injections of antipsychotics may be used, which reduce the risk of relapse to a greater degree than oral medications. When used in combination with psychosocial interventions, they may improve long-term adherence to treatment.

Research findings suggested that other neurotransmission systems, including serotonin, glutamate, GABA, and acetycholine, were implicated in the development of schizophrenia, and that a more inclusive medication was needed. A new first-in-class antipsychotic that targets multiple neurotransmitter systems called lumateperone (ITI-007), was trialled and approved by the FDA in December 2019 for the treatment of schizophrenia in adults. Lumateperone is a small molecule agent that shows improved safety, and tolerance. It interacts with dopamine, serotonin, and glutamate in a complex, uniquely selective manner, and is seen to improve negative and positive symptoms, and social functioning. Lumateperone was also found to reduce potential metabolic dysfunction, have lower rates of movement disorders, and have lower cardiovascular side effects such as a fast heart rate.

Side Effects

Typical antipsychotics are associated with a higher rate of movement disorders including akathisia. Some atypicals are associated with considerable weight gain, diabetes and the risk of metabolic syndrome. Risperidone (atypical) has a similar rate of extrapyramidal symptoms to haloperidol (typical). A rare but potentially lethal condition of neuroleptic malignant syndrome (NMS) has been associated with the use of antipsychotics. Through its early recognition, and timely intervention rates have declined. However, an awareness of the syndrome is advised to enable intervention. Another less rare condition of tardive dyskinesia can occur due to long-term use of antipsychotics, developing after many months or years of use. It is more often reported with use of typical antipsychotics.

Clozapine is associated with side effects that include weight gain, tiredness, and hypersalivation. More serious adverse effects include seizures, NMS, neutropenia, and agranulocytosis (lowered white blood cell count) and its use needs careful monitoring. Studies have found that antipsychotic treatment following NMS and neutropenia may sometimes be successfully re-challenged (restarted) with clozapine.

Clozapine is also associated with thromboembolism (including pulmonary embolism), myocarditis, and cardiomyopathy. A systematic review of clozapine-associated pulmonary embolism indicates that this adverse effect can often be fatal, and that it has an early onset, and is dose-dependent. The findings advised the consideration of using a prevention therapy for venous thromboembolism after starting treatment with clozapine, and continuing this for six months. Constipation is three times more likely to occur with the use of clozapine, and severe cases can lead to ileus and bowel ischemia resulting in many fatalities.

However, the risk of serious adverse effects from clozapine is low, and there are the beneficial effects to be gained of a reduced risk of suicide, and aggression. Typical antipsychotics and atypical risperidone can have a side effect of sexual dysfunction. Clozapine, olanzapine, and quetiapine are associated with beneficial effects on sexual functioning helped by various psychotherapies. Unwanted side effects cause people to stop treatment, resulting in relapses.

Treatment Resistant Schizophrenia

About half of those with schizophrenia will respond favourably to antipsychotics, and have a good return of functioning. However, positive symptoms persist in up to a third of people. Following two trials of different antipsychotics over six weeks, that also prove ineffective, they will be classed as having treatment resistant schizophrenia (TRS), and clozapine will be offered. Clozapine is of benefit to around half of this group although it has the potentially serious side effect of agranulocytosis (lowered white blood cell count) in less than 4% of people. Between 12-20% will not respond to clozapine and this group is said to have ultra treatment resistant schizophrenia. ECT may be offered to treat TRS as an add-on therapy, and is shown to sometimes be of benefit. A review concluded that this use only has an effect on medium-term TRS and that there is not enough evidence to support its use other than for this group.

TRS is often accompanied by a low quality of life, and greater social dysfunction. TRS may be the result of inadequate rather than inefficient treatment; it also may be a false label due to medication not being taken regularly, or at all. About 16% of people who had initially been responsive to treatment later develop resistance. This could relate to the length of time on APs, with treatment becoming less responsive. This finding also supports the involvement of dopamine in the development of schizophrenia. Studies suggest that TRS may be a more heritable form.

TRS may be evident from first episode psychosis, or from a relapse. It can vary in its intensity and response to other therapies. This variation is seen to possibly indicate an underlying neurobiology such as dopamine super-sensitivity (DSS), glutamate or serotonin dysfunction, inflammation and oxidative stress. Studies have found that dopamine super-sensitivity is found in up to 70% of those with TRS. The variation has led to the suggestion that treatment responsive and treatment resistant schizophrenia be considered as two different subtypes. It is further suggested that if the subtypes could be distinguished at an early stage significant implications could follow for treatment considerations, and for research. Neuroimaging studies have found a significant decrease in the volume of grey matter in those with TRS with no such change seen in those who are treatment responsive. In those with ultra treatment resistance the decrease in grey matter volume was larger.

A link has been made between the gut microbiota and the development of TRS. The most prevalent cause put forward for TRS is that of mutation in the genes responsible for drug effectiveness. These include liver enzyme genes that control the availability of a drug to brain targets, and genes responsible for the structure and function of these targets. In the colon the bacteria encode a hundred times more genes than exist in the human genome. Only a fraction of ingested drugs reach the colon, having been already exposed to small intestinal bacteria, and absorbed in the portal circulation. This small fraction is then subject to the metabolic action of many communities of bacteria. Activation of the drug depends on the composition and enzymes of the bacteria and of the specifics of the drug, and therefore a great deal of individual variation can affect both the usefulness of the drug and its tolerability. It is suggested that parenteral administration of antipsychotics would bypass the gut and be more successful in overcoming TRS. The composition of gut microbiota is variable between individuals, but they are seen to remain stable. However, phyla can change in response to many factors including ageing, diet, substance-use, and medications – especially antibiotics, laxatives, and antipsychotics. In FEP, schizophrenia has been linked to significant changes in the gut microbiota that can predict response to treatment.

Psychosocial Interventions

A number of psychosocial interventions that include several types of psychotherapy may be useful in the treatment of schizophrenia such as: family therapy, group therapy, cognitive remediation therapy, CBT, and metacognitive training. Skills training, and help with substance use, and weight management – often needed as a side effect of an antipsychotic, are also offered. In the US, interventions for first episode psychosis have been brought together in an overall approach known as coordinated speciality care (CSC) and also includes support for education. In the UK care across all phases is a similar approach that covers many of the treatment guidelines recommended. The aim is to reduce the number of relapses and stays in hospital.

Other support services for education, employment, and housing are usually offered. For people suffering from severe schizophrenia, and discharged from a stay in hospital, these services are often brought together in an integrated approach to offer support in the community away from the hospital setting. In addition to medicine management, housing, and finances, assistance is given for more routine matters such as help with shopping and using public transport. This approach is known as assertive community treatment (ACT) and has been shown to achieve positive results in symptoms, social functioning and quality of life. Another more intense approach is known as intensive care management (ICM). ICM is a stage further than ACT and emphasises support of high intensity in smaller caseloads, (less than twenty). This approach is to provide long-term care in the community. Studies show that ICM improves many of the relevant outcomes including social functioning.

Some studies have shown little evidence for the effectiveness of CBT in either reducing symptoms or preventing relapse. However, other studies have found that CBT does improve overall psychotic symptoms (when in use with medication) and has been recommended in Canada, but it has been seen here to have no effect on social function, relapse, or quality of life. In the UK it is recommended as an add-on therapy in the treatment of schizophrenia, but is not supported for use in treatment resistant schizophrenia. Arts therapies are seen to improve negative symptoms in some people, and are recommended by NICE in the UK. This approach however, is criticised as having not been well-researched, and arts therapies are not recommended in Australian guidelines for example. Peer support, in which people with personal experience of schizophrenia, provide help to each other, is of unclear benefit.

Other

Exercise including aerobic exercise has been shown to improve positive and negative symptoms, cognition, working memory, and improve quality of life. Exercise has also been shown to increase the volume of the hippocampus in those with schizophrenia. A decrease in hippocampal volume is one of the factors linked to the development of the disease. However, there still remains the problem of increasing motivation for, and maintaining participation in physical activity. Supervised sessions are recommended. In the UK healthy eating advice is offered alongside exercise programmes.

An inadequate diet is often found in schizophrenia, and associated vitamin deficiencies including those of folate, and vitamin D are linked to the risk factors for the development of schizophrenia and for early death including heart disease. Those with schizophrenia possibly have the worst diet of all the mental disorders. Lower levels of folate and vitamin D have been noted as significantly lower in first episode psychosis. The use of supplemental folate is recommended. A zinc deficiency has also been noted. Vitamin B12 is also often deficient and this is linked to worse symptoms. Supplementation with B vitamins has been shown to significantly improve symptoms, and to put in reverse some of the cognitive deficits. It is also suggested that the noted dysfunction in gut microbiota might benefit from the use of probiotics.

Violence

Most people with schizophrenia are not aggressive, and are more likely to be victims of violence rather than perpetrators. However, though the risk of violence in schizophrenia is small the association is consistent, and there are minor subgroups where the risk is high. This risk is usually associated with a comorbid disorder such as a substance use disorder – in particular alcohol, or with antisocial personality disorder. Substance abuse is strongly linked, and other risk factors are linked to deficits in cognition and social cognition including facial perception and insight that are in part included in theory of mind impairments. Poor cognitive functioning, decision-making, and facial perception may contribute to making a wrong judgement of a situation that could result in an inappropriate response such as violence. These associated risk factors are also present in antisocial personality disorder which when present as a comorbid disorder greatly increases the risk of violence.

A review in 2012 showed that schizophrenia was responsible for 6% of homicides in Western countries. Another wider review put the homicide figure at between 5-20%. There was found to be a greater risk of homicide during first episode psychosis that accounted for 38.5% of homicides. The association between schizophrenia and violence is complex. Homicide is linked with young age, male sex, a history of violence, and a stressful event in the preceding year. Clinical risk factors are severe untreated psychotic symptoms – untreated due to either not taking medication or to the condition being treatment resistant. A comorbid substance use disorder or an antisocial personality disorder increases the risk for homicidal behaviour by 8-fold, in contrast to the 2-fold risk in those without the comorbid disorders. Rates of homicide linked to psychosis are similar to those linked to substance misuse, and parallel the overall rate in a region. What role schizophrenia has on violence independent of substance misuse is controversial, but certain aspects of individual histories or mental states may be factors.

Hostility is anger felt and directed at a person or group and has related dimensions of impulsiveness and aggression. When this impulsive-aggression is evident in schizophrenia neuroimaging has suggested the malfunctioning of a neural circuit that modulates hostile thoughts and behaviours that are linked with negative emotions in social interactions. This circuit includes the amygdala, striatum, prefrontal cortex, anterior cingulate cortex, insula, and hippocampus. Hostility has been reported during acute psychosis, and following hospital discharge. There is a known association between low cholesterol levels, and impulsivity, and violence. A review finds that people with schizophrenia, and lower cholesterol levels are four times more likely to instigate violent acts. This association is also linked to the increased number of suicides in schizophrenia. It is suggested that cholesterol levels could serve as a biomarker for violent and suicidal tendencies.

A review found that just under 10% of those with schizophrenia showed violent behaviour compared to 1.6% of the general population. An excessive risk of violence is associated with drugs or alcohol and increases the risk by as much as 4-fold. Violence often leads to imprisonment. Clozapine is an effective medication that can be used in penal settings such as prisons. However, a condition of benign ethnic neutropenia in many African-Americans excludes them from the use of clozapine the most effective medication. Cognitive deficits are recognised as playing an important part in the origin and maintenance of aggression, and cognitive remediation therapy may therefore help to prevent the risk of violence in schizophrenia.

Prognosis

Schizophrenia has great human and economic costs. It results in a decreased life expectancy of 20 years. This is primarily because of its association with obesity, poor diet, a sedentary lifestyle, and smoking, with an increased rate of suicide playing a lesser role. Side effects of antipsychotics may also increase the risk. These differences in life expectancy increased between the 1970s and 1990s. An Australian study puts the rate of early death at 25 years, and views the main cause to be related to heart disease.

Several studies indicate that almost 40% of those with schizophrenia die from complications of cardiovascular disease including heart attacks, and sudden cardiac death which is seen to be increasingly associated. An underlying factor of sudden cardiac death may be Brugada syndrome (BrS) – BrS mutations that overlap with those linked with schizophrenia are the calcium channel mutations. BrS may also be drug-induced from certain antipsychotics and antidepressants. Primary polydipsia, or excessive fluid intake, is relatively common in people with chronic schizophrenia. This may lead to hyponatremia which can be life-threatening. Antipsychotics can lead to a dry mouth, but there are several other factors that may contribute to the disorder. It is suggested to lead to a reduction in life expectancy by 13%. A study has suggested that real barriers to improving the mortality rate in schizophrenia are poverty, overlooking the symptoms of other illnesses, stress, stigma, and medication side effects, and that these need to be changed.

Schizophrenia is a major cause of disability. In 2016 it was classed as the 12th most disabling condition. Approximately 75% of people with schizophrenia have ongoing disability with relapses and 16.7 million people globally are deemed to have moderate or severe disability from the condition. Some people do recover completely and others function well in society. Most people with schizophrenia live independently with community support. About 85% are unemployed. In people with a first episode of psychosis in schizophrenia a good long-term outcome occurs in 31%, an intermediate outcome in 42% and a poor outcome in 31%. Males are affected more often than females, and have a worse outcome. Outcomes for schizophrenia appear better in the developing than the developed world. These conclusions have been questioned. Social problems, such as long-term unemployment, poverty, homelessness, exploitation, stigmatisation and victimisation are common consequences, and lead to social exclusion.

There is a higher than average suicide rate associated with schizophrenia estimated at around 5% to 6%, most often occurring in the period following onset or first hospital admission. Several times more (20 to 40%) attempt suicide at least once. There are a variety of risk factors, including male gender, depression, a high IQ, heavy smoking, and substance abuse. Repeated relapse is linked to an increased risk of suicidal behaviour. The use of clozapine can reduce the risk of suicide and aggression.

A strong association between schizophrenia and tobacco smoking has been shown in worldwide studies. Smoking is especially high in those diagnosed with schizophrenia, with estimates ranging from 80 to 90% being regular smokers, as compared to 20% of the general population. Those who smoke tend to smoke heavily, and additionally smoke cigarettes with high nicotine content. Some propose that this is in an effort to improve symptoms. Among people with schizophrenia use of cannabis is also common.

Society and Culture

In 2002, the term for schizophrenia in Japan was changed from seishin-bunretsu-byō (精神分裂病, lit. “mind-split disease”) to tōgō-shitchō-shō (統合失調症, lit. “integration-dysregulation syndrome”) to reduce stigma. The new name also interpreted as “integration disorder” was inspired by the biopsychosocial model; it increased the percentage of people who were informed of the diagnosis from 37 to 70% over three years. A similar change was made in South Korea in 2012 to attunement disorder. A professor of psychiatry, Jim van Os, has proposed changing the English term to psychosis spectrum syndrome. In 2013 with the reviewed DSM-5, the DSM-5 committee was in favour of giving a new name to schizophrenia but they referred this to WHO.

In the United States, the cost of schizophrenia – including direct costs (outpatient, inpatient, drugs, and long-term care) and non-health care costs (law enforcement, reduced workplace productivity, and unemployment) – was estimated to be $62.7 billion in 2002. In the UK the cost in 2016 was put at £11.8 billion per year with a third of that figure directly attributable to the cost of hospital and social care, and treatment.

The book A Beautiful Mind chronicled the life of John Forbes Nash who had been diagnosed with schizophrenia but who went on to win the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences. This was later made into the film with the same name. An earlier documentary was made with the title A Brilliant Madness.

In 1964, a lengthy case study of three males diagnosed with schizophrenia who each had the delusional belief that they were Jesus Christ was published as a book. This has the title of The Three Christs of Ypsilanti, and a film with the title Three Christs was released in 2020. Such religious delusions are a fairly common feature in psychoses including schizophrenia.

Media coverage relating to violent acts by people with schizophrenia reinforces public perception of an association between schizophrenia and violence. Such sensationalist reporting stigmatizes schizophrenia more than any other mental illness. In the UK guidelines are given for the reporting of different conditions. Its campaigns have shown a reduction in negative reporting.

Research Directions

Research into schizophrenia has made use of a number of animal models in particular rats, that have shown to be useful in evaluating the different aspects of its development and pathology. Effects of early intervention is an active area of research, importantly focusing on the early detection of at-risk individuals and the development of risk calculators. Methods for large-scale population screening are also included.

Various agents have been explored for possible effectiveness in treating negative symptoms, for which antipsychotics have been of little benefit. There have been trials on medications with anti-inflammatory activity, based on the premise that inflammation might play a role in the pathology of schizophrenia.

Various brain stimulation techniques are being studied to treat the positive symptoms of schizophrenia, in particular auditory verbal hallucinations (AVHs). A 2015 Cochrane review found unclear evidence of benefit. Most studies focus on transcranial direct-current stimulation (tDCM), and repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS). Techniques based on focused ultrasound for deep brain stimulation could provide insight for the treatment of AVHs.

Another active area of research is the study of a variety of potential biomarkers that would be of invaluable help not only in the diagnosis but also in the treatment and prognosis of schizophrenia. Possible biomarkers include markers of inflammation, neuroimaging, BDNF, genetics, and speech analysis. Some inflammatory markers such as C-reactive protein are useful in detecting levels of inflammation implicated in some psychiatric disorders but they are not disorder-specific. However, other inflammatory cytokines are found to be elevated in first episode psychosis and acute relapse that are normalised after treatment with antipsychotics, and these may be considered as state markers. Deficits in sleep spindles in schizophrenia may serve as a marker of an impaired thalamocortical circuit, and a mechanism for memory impairment. MicroRNAs are highly influential in early neuronal development, and their disruption is implicated in several CNS disorders; circulating microRNAs (cimiRNAs) are found in body fluids such as blood and cerebrospinal fluid, and changes in their levels are seen to relate to changes in microRNA levels in specific regions of brain tissue. These studies suggest that cimiRNAs have the potential to be early and accurate biomarkers in a number of disorders including schizophrenia.

The use of choline as a supplement during pregnancy may have effect in the prevention of the later development of schizophrenia, and is an area of research.

In 2020, over 3,000 clinical trials into drugs, symptom assessment tools, and treatments related to schizophrenia were listed with some recruiting, and some newly completed.

Beware of Dog (2020)

Introduction

Beware of Dog is a 2020 dram film by director Nadia Bedzhanova.

Outline

Alienated in politically-ambiguous Moscow, a young woman deals with severe OCD, while her cousin in Berlin tries to build a romantic relationship ignoring her own condition. In a parallel New York City realm, a heartbroken boxer struggles with addiction, self worth and online anxiety, which connects all the characters on a universal level.

Cast

  • Buddy Duress … Mike.
  • Kevin Iso.
  • Paula Knüpling … Paula.
  • Gladston Makhib … Stranger.
  • Yelena Nesterova … Doctor.
  • Dan Perlman … Dan.
  • Marina Prados.
  • Emily Bahr-de Stefano … Emily.
  • Pavel Tabakov … Sacha.
  • Marina Vasileva … Marina.
  • Eagle Witt … Passerby.

Production & Filming Details

  • Director(s): Nadia Bedzhanova.
  • Producer(s):
    • Lilit Abgarian … executive producer / producer.
    • Nadia Bedzhanova … executive producer.
    • Olya Korovkina … co-producer.
  • Writer(s): Nadia Bedzhanova.
  • Music: Julian Stetter.
  • Cinematography: Nadia Bedzhanova.
  • Editor(s): Tom Knight.
  • Production: Freestyle Digital Media.
  • Distributor(s): Millennial PR.
  • Release Date: 25 January 2020 (Slamdance Film Festival, US).
  • Running Time: 88 minutes.
  • Rating: Unknown.
  • Country: US, Germany, and Russia.
  • Language: English, German, and Russian.

Video Link

Does the OCI-4 Show Promise as an Ultra-Brief Screening Tool for Identifying likely OCD?

Research Paper Title

The OCI-4: An ultra-brief screening scale for obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Background

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a prevalent and burdensome condition that is typically assessed using in-depth interviews or lengthy self-report measures. Accordingly, routine screening in busy non-mental health settings is impractical, and OCD is often under- (or mis-) recognised.

Methods

The researchers evaluated an ultra-brief version of a widely used self-report measure, the Obsessive-Compulsive Inventory-Revised (OCI-R), which may be employed as a routine screener for OCD.

A total of 1,087 adults diagnosed with OCD, 1,306 unselected adults from the community, and 423 adults with anxiety related disorders completed the OCI-R along with measures of anxiety and mood.

Analyses were conducted to reduce the number of items and examine evidence for sensitivity and specificity to OCD clinical status, test-retest reliability, sensitivity to treatment, and convergent and discriminant validity.

Results

Four items that optimally assess different dimensions of OCD (washing, checking, ordering, obsessing) were identified. Psychometric evaluation revealed good to excellent test-retest reliability, validity, prediction of clinical OCD status, and sensitivity to treatment.

Conclusions

A 4-item version of the OCI-R, called the OCI-4, shows promise as an ultra-brief screening tool for identifying likely OCD in settings where in-depth assessment is impractical. Patients with a positive screen may be referred for further evaluation and appropriate treatment.

Reference

Abramovitch, A., Abramovitchm J.S. & McKay, D. (2021) The OCI-4: An ultra-brief screening scale for obsessive-compulsive disorder. Journal of Anxiety Disorder. doi: 10.1016/j.janxdis.2021.102354. Online ahead of print.

Highlighting the Hidden Links between Mental Disorders

Research Paper Title

The hidden links between mental disorders.

Background

Psychiatrists have a dizzying array of diagnoses and not enough treatments. Hunting for the hidden biology underlying mental disorders could help.

In 2018, psychiatrist Oleguer Plana-Ripoll was wrestling with a puzzling fact about mental disorders. He knew that many individuals have multiple conditions – anxiety and depression, say, or schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. He wanted to know how common it was to have more than one diagnosis, so he got his hands on a database containing the medical details of around 5.9 million Danish citizens.

You can continue reading the full article here.

Reference

Marshall, M. (2020) The hidden links between mental disorders. Nature. 581(7806), pp.19-21. doi: 10.1038/d41586-020-00922-8.

Book: Everyday Mindfulness for OCD

Book Title:

Everyday Mindfulness for OCD: Tips, Tricks, and Skills for Living Joyfully.

Author(s): Jon Hershfield (MFT) and Shala Nicely (LPC).

Year: 2017.

Edition: First (1st).

Publisher: New Harbinger.

Type(s): Paperback and Kindle.

Synopsis:

If you have been diagnosed with OCD, you already understand how your obsessive thoughts, compulsive behaviour, and need for rituals can interfere with everyday life. Maybe you have already undergone therapy or are in the midst of working with a therapist. It is important for you to know that life does not end with an OCD diagnosis. In fact, it is possible to not only live with the disorder, but also live joyfully. This practical and accessible guide will show you how.

In Everyday Mindfulness for OCD, you will discover how you can stay one step ahead of your OCD. You will learn about the world of mindfulness, and how living in the present moment non-judgmentally is so important when you have OCD. You will also explore the concept of self-compassion; what it is, what it is not how to use it, and why people with OCD benefit from it. Finally, you will discover daily games, tips, and tricks for outsmarting your OCD, meditations and mindfulness exercises, and much, much more.

Living with OCD is challenging; but it does not have to define you. If you are tired of focusing on how you are living with OCD is and are looking for fun ways to make the most of your unique self, this book will be a breath of fresh air.

Book: The Mindfulness Workbook For OCD

Book Title:

The Mindfulness Workbook For OCD.

Author(s): Jon Hershfield (MFT) and Tom Corboy (MFT).

Year: 2014.

Edition: First (1st).

Publisher: New Harbinger.

Type(s): Paperback and Kindle.

Synopsis:

If you have obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), you might have an irrational fear of being contaminated by germs, or obsessively double-check things. You may even feel like a prisoner, trapped with your intrusive thoughts. Despite the fact that OCD can have a devastating impact on a person’s life, getting real help can be a challenge.

If you have tried medications without success, it might be time to explore further treatment options. You should know that mindfulness-based approaches have been proven-effective in treating OCD and anxiety disorders.

They involve developing an awareness and acceptance of the unwanted thoughts, feelings, and urges that are at the heart of OCD. Combining mindfulness practices with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), The Mindfulness Workbook for OCD offers practical and accessible tools for managing the unwanted thoughts and compulsive urges that are associated with OCD.

Book: Face Your Fears

Book Title:

Face Your Fears – A Proven Plan to Beat Anxiety, Panic, Phobias, and Obsessions.

Author(s): David Tolin, PhD.

Year: 2012.

Edition: First (1st), Illustrated Edition.

Publisher: John Wiley & Sons.

Type(s): Hardcover.

Synopsis:

Reclaim your life from crippling anxiety with this revolutionary step-by-step approach Nearly a third of all people will suffer from severe or debilitating fears – phobias, panic attacks, obsessions, worries, and more over the course of a lifetime.

Now Dr. David Tolin – a renowned psychologist and scientist at the Institute of Living and Yale featured on such programmes as The OCD Project, Hoarders, The Dr. Oz Show , and Oprah – offers help for nearly every type of anxiety disorder.

Dr. Tolin explains what fear really is, why you should face, not avoid, your fear, and how to beat your fear using gradual exposure techniques.

Practical action steps and exercises help you learn this unique approach to facing fear without crutches or other unhelpful things found in many other programs in order to achieve a life that is free of debilitating anxieties. Self–help guide that gives you the tools to take charge and overcome your fears Written by a leading authority on anxiety and based on the latest research provides a practical, step-by-step plan for beating many different kinds of fears—including social anxiety, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), obsessive–compulsive disorder, panic disorder, and phobias Face Your Fears will change the way you think about fear and what to do about it.

This up-to-date, evidence-based, and user-friendly self-help guide to beating phobias and overcoming anxieties walks you step by step through the process of choosing courage and freedom over fear.