What is Schizophrenia?
Schizophrenia is a severe brain disorder which affects about one percent of the population. Those with schizophrenia may hear voices or have delusions. They also may sit for long periods of time without moving or talking.
New research shows a number of potential causes, including genetics, the brain’s chemical makeup and substance abuse. One of the strongest cases for a genetic link is that schizophrenia occurs in 10 percent of people who have a first-degree relative—a parent or sibling—with the disorder. Genetic research continues, but genetic testing does not yet serve as an accurate predictor, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Those with schizophrenia may experience hallucinations or delusions, which typically begin between the ages of 16 and 30. Men tend to experience symptoms a little earlier than women.
While people diagnosed with schizophrenia often have recurring bouts throughout their lives, the National Institutes of Health reports that researchers are making progress in new treatments and different methods of diagnosis.
People with schizophrenia often resist treatment. Because they believe the delusions or hallucinations are real, they do not think they need help. In these cases, family and friends may need to take action to keep their loved one safe.
The good news is that the outlook for people with schizophrenia is improving, thanks to new treatments and growing understanding of what causes the disorder.
What are the Symptoms of Schizophrenia?
Schizophrenia—in its early stages—may share some of the same symptoms with other forms of mental illness: withdrawal, irritability, a change in grades or friends. The National Alliance on Mental Illness reports that schizophrenia will have the following symptoms present for at least six months:
Hallucinations: Hearing voices, seeing or smelling things that others can’t perceive.
Delusions: A false belief that does not change when confronted with facts.
Cognitive issues/disorganized thinking: Difficulty remembering things or organizing thoughts.
Negative symptoms: May include being flat or dull and disconnected.
Those with schizophrenia should work to manage stress, since it can make the symptoms worse. Getting enough sleep is paramount, since medications may create the need for more sleep than typical. Avoiding alcohol and drugs and maintaining connections also are important.