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What is Schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia is a serious mental illness that causes people to have delusions, hallucinations and/or disorganized thought, speech and behavior. With good treatment, 60 percent of people living with Schizophrenia show significant improvement.

Schizophrenia affects one in every one hundred Americans. There is no difference in the number of men and women who have Schizophrenia. Schizophrenia usually develops during late adolescence or early adulthood. Children can have Schizophrenia, but it is not common.

A person with Schizophrenia may have some or all of the following problems that are called “psychotic symptoms”:

  • Inability to distinguish between what is real and what is not real
  • Hallucinations - hearing or seeing things that are not really there
  • Hearing voices that are frightening
  • Hearing voices giving directions the person does not want to follow, which may include harming self and others
  • Delusions - believing others seek to harm or control their thoughts

People with Schizophrenia may think and speak in very confused ways. They may have trouble concentrating or making good decisions. They may also behave in odd ways that frighten other people.

A person with Schizophrenia may have some or all of these problems. It is important to have a thorough medical examination to rule out other possible causes of the above symptoms. A person must have psychotic symptoms not caused by other problems for six months before a therapist can be sure the cause is Schizophrenia. Schizophrenia is a serious illness that interferes with a person’s daily life, including working, playing and interpersonal relationships.

One of the biggest problems with Schizophrenia is the stigma connected to it. People with Schizophrenia, and also their families, may feel ashamed and try to keep the problems a secret. This could prevent them from seeking the help they need.

What causes Schizophrenia?

There is no known single cause of Schizophrenia. Scientists do not yet fully understand how the illness develops. Researchers are exploring how genes, the chemistry of the brain, and injuries and diseases of the brain may play a role in the development of Schizophrenia. They have made progress in understanding how brain chemistry is different in people with Schizophrenia and how brain infections and injuries may be connected to Schizophrenia.

Schizophrenia seems to run in families. A child who has a parent diagnosed with Schizophrenia has about a 10% chance of also being diagnosed with the illness at some point in their life. The rate of Schizophrenia in the general population is about 1%.

How can Schizophrenia be treated?

There is no known cure for Schizophrenia. With good treatment, 60 percent of people with Schizophrenia show significant improvement. This is better than the improvement rate for heart disease which is about 40 to 50 percent.

Treatments can successfully reduce the symptoms of Schizophrenia and allow a person to participate in normal activities. The treatment of Schizophrenia includes a combination of medication, and supportive, educational and rehabilitative services to teach a person to manage symptoms and deal with the problems of everyday living. Rehabilitation may include job training and job support, as well as help in learning to live independently. Sometimes short-time treatment in a hospital is needed.

Additional Information About Schizophrenia

National Institute of Mental Health
This is an agency of the United States government which does research on mental illnesses. This site has a very thorough description of Schizophrenia, its treatment and research about its causes.

National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI)
NAMI is a very respected grass roots family movement which began over 20 years ago. It does effective self-help and advocacy for people with mental illnesses, including Schizophrenia. This site gives a short, easy-to-read description of Schizophrenia and effective treatments.

National Mental Health Association (NMHA)
NMHA is a national organization dedicated to promoting mental health through education and advocacy. This site gives basic information about the symptoms and types of Schizophrenia.

American Psychiatric Association (APA)
APA is a professional association for physicians who specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of mental illnesses, including Schizophrenia. This site gives technical information on Schizophrenia and the most current treatments.

Information courtesy of the MHA of Westchester County, Inc.