In the world of mental health, we know it’s common to find multiple disorders grouped together. For example, depression and anxiety are often found together, as well as OCD and Schizophrenia. It can be difficult to properly diagnose when sufferers are dealing with multiple issues at once. Does this person need help with their anxiety, that could, as a result, help their depression? Or is it the depression that needs attention to ease the anxiety? Can we treat OCD and Schizophrenia at the same time?

In this article, we’re going to take a look at the link between OCD and Schizophrenia, the differences and similarities between these two disorders along with the warning signs.

What exactly is OCD?

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, otherwise known as OCD, is a mental disorder. People with OCD will have certain repetitive thoughts that turn into obsessions that cause anxiety. The sufferer will then compulsively perform a behaviour designed to ease the anxiety, providing temporary relief. The trigger to relief cycle typically looks something like:

  1. Have an intrusive thought (obsession)
  2. Which results in anxiety
  3. Causing the sufferer to do a behaviour to help calm the anxiety (compulsion)
  4. Bringing them temporary relief

OCD looks different from person to person. One person with OCD might ritualistically lock and unlock a door multiple times to ease anxiety, while others may be paralyzed by repeating thoughts of a loved one being physically harmed, either by someone else or by themself.

What exactly is Schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia is a severe, chronic mental disorder that has an effect on the way a person thinks, acts, perceives reality, relates to others and expresses emotion. Schizophrenics experience delusions, struggling to differentiate reality from imagination. Schizophrenia makes things like school, work, home life and relationships incredibly challenging. While there is medication to help symptoms of schizophrenia, there is no cure

Schizophrenics experience symptoms of psychosis. During a psychotic episode, which could be triggered by trauma, people with schizophrenia experience difficulty distinguishing reality from imagination. When someone has a psychotic episode, they may experience a sudden change in personality and behaviour, resulting in strange and even shocking actions.

Similarly to OCD, the severity of schizophrenia varies from person to person. Some schizophrenics will only ever experience one psychotic episode, while others may have multiple episodes in their lifetime, living relatively normal lives in between.

The Overlap in OCD and Schizophrenia: What we know

As we can see, OCD and Schizophrenia are two very distinct disorders. Despite their differences, past studies have suggested that there is an overlap between these two conditions. According to research, about 23% of Schizophrenia sufferers also have OCD. 

Research also suggests that a previous diagnosis of OCD may be linked to an increased risk of developing schizophrenia later in life. There appears to be an increased risk of schizophrenia in individuals with parents who have previously been diagnosed with OCD. OCD and Schizophrenia both typically appear in adolescence or early adulthood.

Both disorders are associated with imbalances in serotonin and dopamine. These chemicals regulate memory, sleep, emotional state and more. 

People who have been diagnosed with Schizophrenia commonly report to have experienced OCD symptoms as their first sign of a mental disorder.

There is no single factor for defining the cause of OCD or schizophrenia. It is however believed that both conditions can develop from a combination of environmental, genetic and neurobiological factors.

Both schizophrenia and OCD are severe and chronic mental illnesses. While both respond to different types of medication and therapy, neither have a cure. Both are linked to abnormalities in brain structure, and both contribute to difficulties in mental wellbeing, relationships, employment and more. 

The differences in OCD and Schizophrenia

Despite the shared etiological factors between OCD and Schizophrenia, professionals in the field say that these two disorders should not be combined as one global diagnosis, even among people who suffer from both OCD and schizophrenia.

Both disorders are treated differently, with different medications and types of therapy proving helpful in managing symptoms. 

While OCD can be treated periodically through medication and therapy treatment, schizophrenia requires lifelong treatment. Antipsychotic medications are incredibly important for managing schizophrenia. The most successful form of treatment for schizophrenia is a mix of antipsychotic medication and therapy.

OCD sufferers going through treatment, either involving medication, therapy, or a mix of the two, can eventually be rid of all OCD symptoms. While their OCD may come back after a trauma or life event, it is possible for OCD to be treated and for symptoms to be managed. 

The two disorders can be differentiated by identifying delusions vs obsessions. 

A delusion is when someone has a false thought that they hold to be true, despite evidence to the contrary. For someone experiencing delusions, it’s difficult to recognise the irrationality in their thinking. One may believe that they possess special powers or have an extraordinary connection to events, people, or objects that they don’t have.

Obsessions are different from delusions. People experiencing obsessions are usually aware that they are irrational, but are simply unable to control it. These differences help professionals diagnose these two separate disorders.  

How to get diagnosed

If you’re concerned you may have OCD, schizophrenia or both and are ready to take steps to manage symptoms, it’s time to talk to your doctor. The International Classification of Diseases (ICD) is an international standard of diagnostic criteria formed by the World Health Organization. The ICD is used to diagnose OCD and schizophrenia internationally.

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