Patients With Schizophrenia Struggle to Regulate High-Level Negative Emotions, Stress

Contemporary Clinic Staff

While response efforts in the control group increase at higher stress levels, emotional regulation does not ramp up in the same way for patients with schizophrenia.

Using clinical data from outpatients with psychotic disorders and a control group, the study focused on the identification stage of emotional regulation and how this process differs between these 2 groups. Investigators used a scale that translates to 1-10 for levels of negative emotion, with 10 representing the highest state of emotional distress.

"The idea of identification in a healthy person tracks as you would expect, as negative emotion increases, they're more likely to manage that," said Ian Raugh, doctoral candidate and lead author, in a press release. "At lower levels, say 1 or 2, you're probably not going to do anything to change it. But as the level of negative emotion goes up, a healthy person is much more likely to engage in efforts to change how they are feeling."

While response efforts in the control group increase at higher stress levels, emotional regulation does not ramp up in the same way for patients with schizophrenia. According to the investigators, these individuals are less likely to employ coping strategies or emotional regulation, and as situations escalate, they become less likely to try to improve the situation.

"The terms we use in psychology are 'learned helplessness' or 'defeatists beliefs,' where people think 'oh, it's not going to work even if I try, so why bother,' which is common in depression as well,” Raugh said in the release “And so, there's that aspect probably driving less attempts at higher levels."

The investigators also hypothesize that it is possible that individuals with schizophrenia are exhausted, as they are regulating when negative emotion is low. As a result, they may be expending more effort when they experience the fewest benefits, and struggle when emotions become more intense.

"Our next goal is to determine whether the same abnormality exists in youth at risk for schizophrenia," said Gregory Strauss, PhD, associate professor of psychology and director of the University of Georgia Clinical Affective Neuroscience Laboratory, in a press release. "Heightened stress reactivity has long been seen as a key risk factor, but these results suggest that regulating that stress response must also be considered. If the same problems are also present years before the illness onset, tailored psychological treatments may have promise for preventing schizophrenia."

REFERENCE

Coping with schizophrenia, when emotions can be too much [news release]. Science Daily; December 8, 2021. Accessed December 15, 2021. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2021/12/211208123410.htm

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