Daily Archives: September 3, 2010

Paranoid Schizophrenia vs Delusional Disorder

Analysis of the common psychopathological features in the various psychotic disorders suggest that symptoms can be clustered into five main categories: (Os & Kapur, 2009, p. 635)

1)      Psychosis, encompassing positive symptoms of delusions and hallucinations.

2)      Alterations in drive and volition, encompassing negative symptoms including lack of motivation, reduction in spontaneous speech, and social withdrawal.

3)      Alterations in neurocognition, encompassing cognitive symptoms including difficulties in memory, attention, and executive functioning.

4)      Affective dysregulation giving rise to depressive symptoms or 5) manic (bipolar) symptoms.

The term schizophrenia is typically applied to a syndrome that is characterized by a long duration, bizarre delusions, negative symptoms, and few affective symptoms (non-affective psychosis).  (Os & Kapur, 2009)  Formerly called dementia praecox, some of its associated features include inappropriate affect, anhedonia, dysphoric mood, lack of insight, depersonalization, and delrealization.  (Colman, 2009, p. 674)  Schizophrenia affects approximately 0.7% of the world’s population, with prevalence greater in men throughout adulthood, but equal by the end of the risk period.  Schizophrenia is highly heritable, with onset being rare before adolescence or after middle age (although men become ill earlier in life than women).  (MacDonald & Schulz, 2009, p. 495)  Schizophrenia subtypes include paranoid, disorganized, catatonic, undifferentiated, and residual types.  This article will focus on paranoid schizophrenia, which tends to be the least severe subtype of schizophrenia.

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“The essential feature of the Paranoid Type of Schizophrenia is the presence of prominent delusions or auditory hallucinations” where no disorganized speech, disorganized or catatonic behaviors, or flat or inappropriate affect is present.  (American Psychiatric Association, Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders, 2000, p. 313)  Differential diagnosis is an exclusionary process since of all the other subtypes must be eliminated before diagnosing the paranoid subtype.  Paranoid schizophrenia sufferers typically have delusions that are persecutory and/or grandiose; they also typically have a recurrent theme.  Hallucinations are usually related to the same content theme as the delusions, and may include the associate features of anxiety, anger, aloofness, and/or argumentativeness.  Onset tends to be later in life when compared with other subtypes of schizophrenia, and the distinguishing characteristics are often more stable over time.  The prognosis is considerably better when compared with other schizophrenia subtypes, especially regarding occupational functioning and independent living.  (4th ed., text rev.; DSM-IV-TR; American Psychiatric Association, 2000, p. 314)

“The essential feature of Delusional Disorder is the presence of one or more non-bizarre delusions that persist for at least 1 month.”  (4th ed., text rev.; DSM-IV-TR; American Psychiatric Association, 2000, p. 323)  Bizarreness is mostly subjective since it is contingent on socio-cultural norms and expectations.  Bizarre delusions (as in schizophrenia) are “clearly implausible, not understandable, and not derived from ordinary life experiences.”  (4th ed., text rev.; DSM-IV-TR; American Psychiatric Association, 2000, p. 324)  In contrast, non-bizarre delusions (as in delusional disorder) involve situations that could conceivably happen in real life… like being followed, poisoned, etc.  Subtypes of delusional disorder are categorized based on the content of the delusions or the theme thereof.  They include erotomanic, grandiose, jealous, persecutory, somatic, mixed, and unspecified types.  This essay will focus on persecutory delusions, although persecutory delusions often coexist with and are comorbid with other delusion types (particularly grandiose, in mixed presentation).

A determination of persecutory delusions is complicated by the fact that the incidence of persecutory thoughts is relatively common among the general population.  (Brown, 2008, p. 165)  “The criteria used to distinguish between these different categories of psychotic disorder are based on duration, dysfunction, associated substance use, bizarreness of delusions, and presence of depression or mania.”  (Os & Kapur, 2009, p. 635)  In delusional disorders, distortions of reality coexist with realms of rational, realistic thinking.  (Blaney & Millon, 2009, p. 361)  Delusional disorders are distinguished from schizophrenia by the absence of active phase symptoms of schizophrenia (e.g. prominent auditory or visual hallucinations, bizarre delusions, disorganized speech, grossly disorganized or catatonic behavior, and/or negative symptoms).  “Compared with schizophrenia, delusional disorder usually produces less impairment in occupational and social functioning.”  (4th ed., text rev.; DSM-IV-TR; American Psychiatric Association, 2000, p. 327)

“The assessment of bizarreness is generally absent among lists of delusion dimensions, notwithstanding its key role in the distinction between DD and PS.”  (Blaney & Millon, 2009, p. 365)  To improve decision-making and reduce the chance of misdiagnosis, Brown (2008) suggests we ascertain, to the extent available, base rates of the specific persecutory beliefs (e.g. discrimination and harassment, mental illness stigma, criminal victimization, relationship infidelities, conspiracies, stalking, surveillance, poisoning, etc) in our area.  Secondly, he suggests we consider alternative hypotheses, especially in decisions that have a very low base rate.  While actively searching for disconfirming information, we should postpone decisions until further information is collected.  I agree with his suggestion that we should rely more on information, and less on intuition, when it comes to confirming or disconfirming persecutory beliefs.  (Brown, 2008, p. 172)

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American Psychiatric Association. (2000). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th ed., text rev.). Washington, DC: Author.

Blaney, P. H., & Millon, T. (2009). Oxford textbook of psychopathology (2nd ed.). New York, New York: Oxford University Press.

Brown, S. A. (2008). The reality of persecutory beliefs: Base rate information for clinicians. Ethical Human Psychology and Psychiatry, 10(3), 163-179. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.bellevue.edu:80/login?url=http://proquest.umi.com.ezproxy.bellevue.edu/pqdweb?did=1646112241&sid=7&Fmt=3&clientId=4683&RQT=309&VName=PQD

Colman, A. M. (2009). Oxford dictionary of psychology (3rd ed.). Oxford, NY: Oxford University Press.

MacDonald, A. W., & Schulz, S. C. (2009, May ). What we know: Findings that every theory of schizophrenia should explain. Schizophrenia Bulletin, 35(3), 493-508. doi: 10.1093/schbul/sbp017

Os, J. V., & Kapur, S. (2009, Aug 22-Aug 28). Schizophrenia. The Lancet, 374(9690), 635-645. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.bellevue.edu:80/login?url=http://proquest.umi.com.ezproxy.bellevue.edu/pqdweb?did=1843730411&sid=4&Fmt=3&clientId=4683&RQT=309&VName=PQD

Paranoid & Delusional Disorders

The boundary between normal and abnormal appears to be largely subjective.  “One person’s excessive suspiciousness is another’s due caution, and one person’s trust is another’s gullibility.”  (Blaney & Millon, 2009, p. 362)  The “trade-off between vigilance and vulnerability” is something I had not considered… that balance is perceived to be the issue when it comes to paranoid personality disorder (PDD), paranoid schizophrenia (PS), and or delusional disorder (DD).  “Any stubborn genius will have ideas that happen to be wrong as well as those that happen to be right.”  This observation seems to suggest that the people who often suffer from these disorders are extremely intelligent, and thus, may have some beliefs that are in fact sane, relevant, and true.  It would suffice to say that I am going to use caution when pursuing this diagnosis… Einstein was considered to be delusional!

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Most studies that have been done to date have focused on persecutory delusions… either by design or because they are more common and subsequently easier to find suitable samples.  Persecutory delusions involve a degree of suspiciousness, or are generally mistrustful and/or wary.  It is suitably difficult to measure the tangible levels of suspiciousness via self report, however, since some sufferers may be too guarded to admit that they are suspicious.  The very process of self report is likely to “trip the defenses of” and subsequently increase guardedness.  Further compounding the efficacy of self-report inventories is the issue that sufferers may be reporting reality, betraying hypersensitivity, or some combination of both.  This highlights the necessity of multiple-peer reports that can confirm the interpersonal difficulties of the sufferer.  We, as clinicians, will have to be diligent about securing 3rd party sources (schools, work environment, relatives, other individuals whom are close to the client) in order to get as many perspectives on the conditions as possible.

There are several dimensions of delusions… most notably belief certainty (emotional commitment, conviction), self-monitoring (insight), distress, and frequency.  I was particularly interested in the “double awareness phase” in which a patient wavers between embracing a delusion and recognizing that its delusionality.  Of note, is the observation that psychotropic medications reduce engagement in delusions, thereby improving overall functionality, but ultimately leave actual beliefs untouched?  This seems to parallel the overall trend of medications “treating the symptoms and not the cause.”

Some patients may possess some distinctly protective attributes that account for the fact that they do not become delusional.  As a result, quasi-delusional or aberrant beliefs may not always be associated with clinical conditions indicative of a general mental disturbance or distress.  For example, low levels of anhedonia and high levels of openness are commonly thought to be a psychological asset… despite the fact that they may be quasi-delusional.  Such individuals may demonstrate greater levels of control over their unusual perceptions.  (Blaney & Millon, 2009, p. 366)  Perhaps this natural protection can be leveraged to direct treatment of people whom do not have that natural protection.  It seems to me that if we know what can prevent delusions, we should make every attempt to instill those protections in our clients whom suffer without them?

Paranoia and delusions are thought to arise from several different situations or events.  One possible event is migration, in which an individual finds themselves in a new environment that does not provide a sense of security.  Growing frustration with the new locale may leave migrants vulnerable to paranoid disorders.  As is the case with many other disorders, abuse and trauma during childhood often precede delusional experiences in adulthood.  In some cases the delusions are related to that specific event, like trauma flashbacks, or they may be more generalized due to negative schematic models of the self and the world.  This manifests in high levels of self-reported suspiciousness and/or resentment.  Paranoid individuals tend to be characterized by experiences involving victimization or stigmatization by others, whereas depressed individuals were characterized by interpersonal losses.  (Blaney & Millon, 2009, p. 369)  Personally, I am not at all surprised by the childhood abuse antecedent.  The toll of child abuse rises again this week… I am hard pressed to find a disorder that can NOT be predicated by child abuse.

Biologically speaking, some researchers have attempted to attribute these behaviors to processing defects or bias.  Theory of Mind (ToM), for example, suggests that the human mind is characterized by a system that facilitates inferences about the mental processes of other persons.  (Blaney & Millon, 2009, p. 377)  In essence, patients have difficulty discerning others’ intentions correctly.  Some have suggested that delusion-prone individuals are overconfident and quick to reach certainty in the face of incomplete information.  Other research suggests that delusional individuals may have a proposed tendency to attribute specific persons as a source of danger (personalization), thereby revealing an inability to distinguish between external negative events that are situational as opposed to interpersonal.  It has been posited that they may have an exaggerated version of self-consciousness in which they continually preoccupy themselves with how they are seen by others… and subsequently generalize that everyone feels like that.  (Blaney & Millon, 2009, p. 379)  On the whole, there are several theories… all of which seem “plausible.”  I can’t wait to get into the field to test the theory.

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Blaney, P. H., & Millon, T. (2009). Oxford textbook of psychopathology (2nd ed.). New York, New York: Oxford University Press.

Schizophrenia, Downward Social Drift, and Interpersonal Adjustment

Everyday social encounters present people with schizophrenia a considerable amount of difficulty.  They show significant impairment in both “instrumental relationships” and social-emotional relationships.  This impairment is demonstrated by “downward social drift” and, perhaps more importantly, the fact that the majority of people with schizophrenia never marry.  Of note is that interpersonal adjustment issues are much more prevalent in the male portion of the schizophrenia population that in the female portion.

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Social competence is a global or “macro” measurement of social role performance.  Global social competence issues continue to be a marker not only for people who have schizophrenia, but for people who are considered “high risk.”  I still don’t quite understand the etiology of these social deficits however… which came first, the social deficits or the disorder?

Social skills are less global and more molecular, thereby representing skills that enable a person to competently perform a social task.  They include “specific verbal, non-verbal and paralinguistic (e.g., voice tone) behavioral components that together form the basis for effective communication.”  (Blaney & Millon, 2009, p. 335)  To my own personal delight, I really enjoy any opportunity to utilize role-play… and this is one of them.  Typically, people with schizophrenia will show weaker verbal and nonverbal skill development, they tend to be less assertive, and they tend to deny making errors or lie as opposed to apologize or explain.  I am really looking forward to utilizing role-play with this population, I believe it to be one of my strong suits (and one of the pieces I really enjoy).

People with schizophrenia can have remarkably impaired ability to solve social problems.  This might manifest in difficulty recognizing interpersonal problems, formulating solutions to that problem, or perhaps most importantly implementing a solution that has a probably degree of success.  They are generally less able to recognize poor problem solutions (e.g., solutions that are unlikely to work).

Gender is an often neglected variable when studying schizophrenia.  Female patients typically have later onset, shorter and less frequent psychotic episodes, and show better response to treatment when compared to make counterparts.  They are more likely to be marked, to live independently, and to be employed (despite having similar symptoms to men).  Women often require less antipsychotic medication to stabilize them.  This leads some authors to speculate about the neuroprotective properties of estrogen… interesting concept to say the least.  This might be off-base, but could this possibly explain the late life crisis that women often experience around menopause?

Positive and negative symptoms should not be viewed in the context of “good and bad.”  Positive symptoms are “added,” like delusions or hallucinations for example.  Negative symptoms are typically features that are removed, reduced, or blunted.  This typically manifests as emotional withdrawal or anhedonia.  Negative effects have been shown to predict both unemployment and reduced social network size.  In total, positive symptoms, negative symptoms, and “disorders of relating” represent three distinct dimensions of schizophrenia.  (Blaney & Millon, 2009, p. 340)

Of particular interest to me is the discussion on interpersonal stress, relapse, and the apparent foundation of the above in family systems theory.  Specifically, “the social environment into which schizophrenia patients were discharged after they left the hospital was significantly associated with how well patients fared psychiatrically over the next several months.”  (Blaney & Millon, 2009, p. 349)  Expressed emotion (EE) reflects the extent to which the relatives of a psychiatric patient talk about that patient in a critical, hostile, or emotionally over-involved way.  EE has been found to be a reliable predictor of relapse, and as a result, family therapy focused on dealing with living with a schizophrenic patient is definitely in order.  This can assist family members in overcoming their apparent difficulty in accepting, and understanding, the disorder.

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Blaney, P. H., & Millon, T. (2009). Oxford textbook of psychopathology (2nd ed.). New York, New York: Oxford University Press.