- Schizophrenia is a severe, chronic mental illness that affects about 1% of the population.
- Schizophrenia is typically characterized by symptoms of psychosis, such as hallucinations, delusions, and/or disorganized speech and behavior.
- The causes of schizophrenia are not known but likely include genetics (hereditary factors), neurodevelopmental and medical conditions, and drug abuse.
- Schizophrenia is not related to multiple or split personalities, and people with schizophrenia do not tend to be violent.
- Some people with schizophrenia are very successful and accomplished; however, many end up homeless.
- Treatments for schizophrenia include antipsychotic medications and certain types of therapy.
- A small number of people with schizophrenia may recover completely, but most have symptoms throughout their lives.
What Is Schizophrenia?
Schizophrenia is a chronic, severe, and often disabling mental illness. It affects men and women with equal frequency. People suffering from schizophrenia have one or more of the following symptoms:
- Delusions: false beliefs held with conviction in spite of reason or evidence to the contrary, not explained by that person's cultural context
- Hallucinations are sensory perceptions that occur in the absence of an actual external stimulus (for example, seeing or hearing something that no one else does and is not present). These can involve any of the senses: auditory (sound), visual (sight), tactile (touch), olfactory (smell), or gustatory (taste). Auditory hallucinations (hearing voice[s] or other sounds) are the most common type of hallucinations in people with schizophrenia.
- Disorganized thought (often inferred by one's speech) and behavior
The term schizophrenia is derived from Greek and literally means "split mind." Despite this meaning of the word, schizophrenia is not related to multiple or split personalities, and people with schizophrenia do not have separate personalities. Multiple personality disorder (or split personality disorder, now formally known as dissociative identity disorder [DID]) is a controversial and uncommon condition that is not at all related to schizophrenia. Unfortunately, many people, even in the news, in movies, and on television, incorrectly use the term schizophrenia in this context.
Mental-health disorders are defined by specific diagnostic criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM 5) used by mental-health practitioners. A diagnosis of 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. Symptoms must include two of the following categories of symptoms (with at least one from the first three categories):
- Disorganized speech (evidence of disorganized thought)
- Grossly disorganized or catatonic behavior
- Negative symptoms (decreased emotional expression, reduced range of interest, avolition [lack of drive or motivation])
These symptoms must be causing a significant impairment in function at work, school, relationships, or self-care. The person's level of functioning is significantly below that present before symptoms started. To make the diagnosis, symptoms can't be better explained by a different diagnosis (for example, depression or bipolar disorder with psychosis, autism spectrum disorder, other medical conditions, or medications/substances [prescription or illicit drugs]).
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 11/21/2016
Michael J. Peterson, MD, PhD
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