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Schizophrenia Facts

Schizophrenia is a chronic, severe, and disabling mental illness. It affects men and women with equal frequency. People suffering from schizophrenia may have the following symptoms:

  • Delusions, false personal beliefs held with conviction in spite of reason or evidence to the contrary, not explained by that person's cultural context
  • Hallucinations, perceptions (can be sound, sight, touch, smell, or taste) that occur in the absence of an actual external stimulus (Auditory hallucinations, those of voice or other sounds, are the most common type of hallucinations in schizophrenia.)
  • Disorganized thoughts and behaviors
  • Disorganized speech
  • Catatonic behavior, in which the affected person's body may be rigid and the person may be unresponsive

The term schizophrenia is Greek in origin and means "split mind" in Greek. This is not an accurate medical term. In Western culture, some people have come to believe that schizophrenia refers to a split-personality disorder and still use that term colloquially, although it is also inaccurate. These are two very different disorders, and people with schizophrenia do not have separate personalities.

Schizophrenia and other mental-health disorders have fairly strict criteria for diagnosis. Time of onset as well as length and characteristics of symptoms are all factors in establishing a diagnosis. The active symptoms of schizophrenia must be present at least six months, or only one month if treated.

  • Who is affected?
    • Statistics about how many people are diagnosed with this disorder vary. The illness affects about 1% of the population. More than 2 million Americans suffer from schizophrenia at any given time, and 100,000-200,000 people are newly diagnosed every year. Fifty percent of people in hospital psychiatric care have schizophrenia.
    • Schizophrenia is usually diagnosed in people 17-35 years of age. The onset of the illness appears to be earlier in men (in the late teens or early twenties) than in women (who tend to be affected in the 20s to early 30s). Many of those affected are disabled. They may not be able to hold down jobs or even perform tasks as simple as conversations. Some may be so incapacitated that they are unable to do activities most people take for granted, such as showering or preparing a meal. Many are homeless. Some recover enough to live a life relatively free from assistance.
    • Schizophrenia can affect anyone from any walk of life. This includes famous people, one of the most notable being Dr. John Nash, Nobel Prize winner and subject of the Academy Award-winning movie, A Beautiful Mind.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 10/15/2014

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Read about causes of schizophrenia.

Schizophrenia Causes

Experts don't know what causes schizophrenia. It may have different causes for different people.

  • Genetics: Your chances of getting schizophrenia are greater if your parent, brother, or sister has it. But most people who have a family member with schizophrenia don't get it.
  • Brain chemistry and structure: It's possible that neurotransmitters, which send messages between parts of the brain, don't work the right way in people who have schizophrenia.
  • Problems during pregnancy: Schizophrenia may be related to problems during the mother's pregnancy that can harm a baby's developing brain and nervous system. These problems include poor nutrition or a viral infection during pregnancy.


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