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Disorganized schizophrenia is one of five subtypes of schizophrenia. Also known as hebephrenic schizophrenia, this particular subtype often has a poor prognosis. As the name suggests, it is characterized by disorganized behavior and speech, as well as disturbances in emotional expression.
Individuals diagnosed with disorganized schizophrenia typically display three distinctive symptoms. These are:
Disorganized speech is actually caused by the individual’s severely impaired thought processes. This makes it extremely difficult – and often impossible – for patients with this diagnosis to speak in a way that is coherent and meaningful. They simply cannot organize their thoughts. If you try to converse with them, they may constantly jump from one subject to another. They may also experience “thought blocking”, which causes them to abruptly stop mid-sentence as if their thoughts were suddenly gone.
Individuals with disorganized schizophrenia will often answer questions with a vague response or one that is completely unrelated to the question. It’s not uncommon for them to actually make up words, referred to as “neologisms”. When their cognitive disorganization is severe, their speech will usually be impossible to understand. When this occurs it is often referred to as “word salad”.
Disorganized behavior may be exhibited in a variety of ways. Patients with this type of schizophrenia are unable to start a specific task (e.g. taking a shower or cooking a meal) or finish it once they begin. This is one of the reasons that the prognosis is especially poor for this type of schizophrenia. Their severe disorganization makes it impossible to function on their own. As a result of their gross disorganization, they often neglect their personal hygiene and appear disheveled.
Individuals with this type of schizophrenia may become agitated for no apparent reason. They may engage in very inappropriate sexual behavior, such as touching themselves while in a public place. Bizarre dress is also not uncommon, such as piling on layers of clothing even though the weather is very warm.
The term “affect” refers to a person’s emotional response (e.g. smiling when happy), including the way it is expressed (e.g. with their body language and tone of voice). In disorganized schizophrenia, individuals often have a blunted or “flat” affect; in other words, they show little or no emotion in their facial expression, mannerisms, or their tone of voice. If they do show emotion it may be completely inappropriate to the situation, such as laughing hysterically at a sad story.
Unlike paranoid schizophrenia, in which hallucinations and / or delusions are primary symptoms, people with disorganized schizophrenia may not have hallucinations or delusions. If they do, they aren’t prominent, nor do they revolve around a specific theme (such as religion or persecution).
In order to meet the criteria for a diagnosis of disorganized schizophrenia, the patient must not exhibit symptoms that meet the criteria for catatonic schizophrenia (another one of the five subtypes).
Other characteristics of this particular subtype include odd or bizarre behaviors. The person may have strange mannerisms, stand or sit in an unusual position, or grimace frequently. They are also often socially withdrawn.
Disorganized schizophrenia usually requires lifelong treatment. Antipsychotic medications can help reduce and control some of the symptoms, enabling the person to live a more functional and fulfilling life. If the medication is effective, he/she may be well enough to participate in individual, group, family, or other types of therapy. Vocational skills training may also be very beneficial.
The signs of disorganized schizophrenia often begin to appear at an earlier age than they do for other types of schizophrenia. Personality disturbances are often noticeable early on. The development of this subtype is usually very gradual, unlike paranoid schizophrenia in which there is usually a distinctive initial “psychotic break”.
Unfortunately, the symptoms of disorganized schizophrenia are less likely to subside significantly like they do with some of the other types. However, with appropriate and ongoing treatment, some individuals with this type of schizophrenia are able to function relatively well.
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