What is schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia is a mental illness that affects about 1% of the adult population. Schizophrenia affects both men and women with equal frequency. It often appears in men in their late teens or early twenties, and with women in their twenties or early thirties. Schizophrenia is often related to dissociative identity disorder (DID), also known as multiple personality disorder, in which someone alternates between different personalities. Schizophrenia is not related to DID, but more so relates to the “split” between emotional expression and current experiences.

Symptoms of Schizophrenia

Schizophrenia often interferes with a person’s ability to think clearly, to distinguish reality from fantasy, to manage emotions, make decisions, and to relate to others. The symptoms of schizophrenia often include positive symptoms, behaviors that are present that should be absent, and negative symptoms, behaviors that are absent that should be present. Examples include:

Positive Symptoms

  • Delusions: Beliefs that may be possible but are not true (such as believing that people are plotting against you or tracking your behavior, or that you are the Messiah)
  • Hallucinations: When someone hears, sees, feels, or smells things that are not actually present (such as hearing voices that no one else can hear)
  • Disorganized speech (rambling or incoherent): Not being able to organize thoughts and communicating them in a way which other people can’t understand
  • Difficulty prioritizing tasks

Negative Symptoms

  • Emotional flatness or lack of expression: When a person’s face, voice, and gestures seem flat
  • Lack of interest in life: Difficulty starting and following through on activities and having trouble doing simple things
  • Lack of pleasure: Not enjoying things they used to enjoy, including relationships and activities

Other things besides schizophrenia may also cause similar symptoms, such as drug usage or a medical condition affecting the brain (head, injury, tumor, etc). Therefore, if you or someone you know is concerned about the symptoms described above, it is best to consult about the symptoms with a medical doctor for a complete checkup.

What causes schizophrenia?

The exact cause of schizophrenia is not known. Like other medical illnesses such as cancer or diabetes, schizophrenia seems to be caused by a combination of genetics, environmental factors, and psycho-social factors. Examples include:

  • Genetics or family history: People who have first-degree relatives, such as parents, brothers, or sisters, have a higher risk of inheriting schizophrenia. However, genes only increase the chances of developing this illness; it does not depend on any single gene.
  • Biochemical factors: Research has indicated that the deficient activity of the neurotransmitters dopamine and glutamate, possibly play a role in developing schizophrenia.
  • Environment: Your prenatal environment, like if your mother had the flu when she was pregnant or not receiving sufficient nutrition as a child, can put you at high risk of developing schizophrenia. Also, situations like being exposed to stress or trauma can increase risks.
  • Drug use: Some research suggest that drug misuse is related to the development of schizophrenia. It’s likely that substance misuse can bring on or worsen the symptoms and get in the way of the treatment of a person with schizophrenia.

Getting Help

Schizophrenia is treatable and people with schizophrenia can lead happy, fulfilling, productive lives. The most effective form of treatment is a combination of medications, professional counseling, and peer-to-peer and family support. If you have or think you have schizophrenia, seeking help is important. 

It should begin with a visit to a medical doctor, and sharing when you started experiencing symptoms. A general practitioner or psychiatrist may prescribe medication. Therapy or counseling with a psychiatrist, psychologist, social worker, or counselor can also help manage your symptoms and help you manage day to day tasks. Some who have schizophrenia may have periods of acute symptoms that require intensive treatment, such as hospitalization (if necessary).

The National Alliance on Mental Illness has a weekly recovery support group for people living with mental illness in which people learn from each others’ experiences, share coping strategies, and offer each other encouragement and understanding. They also have resources for family and friends of a person who has schizophrenia. Check out the NAMI Connection to find a support group near you

Information for this article was provided by: 
Acknowledgements: This article was originally developed by youth and staff for

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