What is Schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia is a very complex condition, which may help explain why there are so many misconceptions. The word, itself, comes from the Greek “schizo”, meaning split and “phren”, meaning mind, but schizophrenia is not the same as split personality or multiple-personality. Contrary to popular perception, most people with schizophrenia are not violent, do not live on the street nor are they committed to mental hospitals. Most manage on their own, live with family or in group home settings.

Schizophrenia is a chronic and severe mental disorder that affects how a person thinks, feels and acts. Being out of touch with reality is a popular way of describing this condition.  Someone struggling with schizophrenia may have difficulty knowing what is real and what is imaginary, and they often find it difficult to behave appropriately in social situations. Although schizophrenia is not as common as other mental disorders, it does affect roughly 2 million individuals in the U.S, and, left untreated, the symptoms can be disabling.

Early Warning Signs of Schizophrenia

Schizophrenia affects men and women about equally but symptoms tend to appear at an earlier age for men, typically in the late teens the too early 20s. Women are more likely to begin to show signs in their late 20s. Children are rarely diagnosed with this particular disorder, and it is unusual for someone older than age 45 to begin showing symptoms. Early signs to watch for include:

  • Hearing or seeing something that isn’t there
  • Feelings of being watched
  • Odd or nonsensical ways of speaking or writing
  • Indifference, especially to very important situations
  • Negative change in school work or job performance
  • Change in attention to personal hygiene and appearance
  • Personality changes
  • Isolating or withdrawing from social situations
  • Irrational, angry or fearful response to family and friends
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Loss of ability to focus or concentrate
  • Inappropriate behavior
  • Holding the body in strange or awkward positions
  • New and extreme preoccupation with religion or the occult

Symptoms of Schizophrenia

Schizophrenia is considered a group of disorders, and when it is active, it can be characterized by episodes during which the patient is unable to distinguish between what is real and what is not. Symptoms vary considerably between individuals but fall into these basic categories:

Positive psychotic symptoms – hallucinations which can mean seeing, feeling, tasting, hearing or smelling something that does not exist, paranoid delusions and exaggerated or distorted perceptions, beliefs, and behaviors.

Negative symptoms – those struggling with schizophrenia can lose the ability to initiate plans, make sense when they speak, express emotion or find pleasure even in those things they used to enjoy.

Disorganization symptoms – confusion, both in thought and speech, trouble with logical thinking, odd or inappropriate behavior and abnormal body movements.

Impaired cognition – memory issues, inability to focus or concentrate and declining educational performance.

What causes schizophrenia is not known, but researchers believe that a combination of genetics, brain chemistry, and environment, including certain types of drug use, contributes to the development of the disorder. The degree, duration, and frequency of symptoms vary from person to person and the incidence of the more severe and disabling symptoms often decrease as the individual gets older. Stress, substance abuse and not taking medications as prescribed can all result in an increase of symptoms. While there is currently no cure for schizophrenia, when the symptoms are treated, most people will improve significantly over time.