Learning about Schizophrenia

What is schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia is a group of severe brain disorders in which people interpret reality abnormally.  Schizophrenia can cause a combination of hallucinations, delusions, and disordered thinking and behavior.  Contrary to some popular belief, schizophrenia isn't a split personality or multiple personality disorder.  Although the word "schizophrenia" does mean "split mind," it refers to a disruption of the usual balance of emotions and thinking. Schizophrenia is a chronic condition and typically requires lifelong treatment.

What are the symptoms?

Schizophrenia symptoms are similar to other mental illnesses, and no one symptom can identify a diagnosis of schizophrenia.  In men, schizophrenia symptoms typically start in the teens or 20’s.  In women, schizophrenia symptoms typically begin in the 20’s or early 30’s.  It is uncommon for children and those older than 45 to be diagnosed with schizophrenia.

The signs and symptoms of schizophrenia generally are divided into three categories: positive, negative and cognitive:

Positive symptoms:

    • Delusions
    •  Hallucinations
    • Thought disorder
    • Disorganized behavior

Negative symptoms:

    • Loss of interest in everyday activities
    • Appearing to lack emotion
    • Reduced ability to plan or carry out activities
    • Neglect of personal hygiene
    • Social withdrawal
    • Loss of motivation
  • Cognitive symptoms:
    • Problems with making sense of information
    • Difficulty paying attention
    • Memory problems

 What causes schizophrenia?

The exact cause of schizophrenia is unknown, but researchers believe that there are both a genetics and environmental factors that contribute to development of the disease.  Problems with certain naturally occurring brain chemicals, including the neurotransmitters dopamine and glutamate, may also contribute to the presence of schizophrenia.

What are the risk factors?

Although the precise cause of schizophrenia isn't known, certain factors seem to increase the risk of developing or triggering schizophrenia, including:

    • Having a family history of schizophrenia
    • Exposure to viruses, toxins or malnutrition while in the womb, particularly in the first and second trimesters
    • Stressful life circumstances
    • Older paternal age
    • Taking psychoactive drugs during adolescence and young adulthood 

What complications are associated with schizophrenia?

If left untreated, schizophrenia can cause severe emotional, behavioral and health problems.  Complications associated with schizophrenia include:

    • Suicide
    • Self-destructive behavior
    • Depression
    • Abuse of alcohol, drugs or prescription medications
    • Poverty
    • Homelessness
    • Family conflicts
    • Inability to work or attend school
    • Health problems from antipsychotic medications
    • Being a victim or perpetrator of violent crime
    • Heart disease, often related to heavy smoking