FAQ: The Facts About Schizophrenia

Learn more about the symptoms and risks of schizophrenia.

Posted on | By Erin L. Olivo, PhD
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Jessie Close Shares How Her Son Dealt With Schizophrenia (1:40)

What is schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia is a serious mental illness that impairs the way a person thinks and perceives reality. It also impacts how they manage their emotions and how they relate to others. It’s a complex chronic illness that is usually diagnosed in young adulthood and is a lifelong chronic condition. Diagnosis can be difficult, and it’s important to be evaluated by a medical professional to rule out other causes of the symptoms.

Related: Jessie Close Shares How Her Son Dealt With Schizophrenia

What are the symptoms?

People with schizophrenia struggle to function in their day-to-day lives. In addition to this reduced functioning they also persistently experience some of the following symptoms:

  • Delusions – These are false beliefs that don’t change even when the person is faced with contradictory facts or evidence. Delusions often lead to confused thinking and difficulty concentrating.
  • Hallucinations – These can include seeing things, hearing things, or smelling things that others cannot. Often hallucinatory voices can be harsh or threatening.
  • Disorganized speech – Distorted and confused thinking can lead to a jumbled and confusing way of speaking.
  • Disorganized or catatonic behavior – Behavior can seem bizarre and can range from very excitable to very low energy or lethargic.
  • Negative symptoms – These are the symptoms that greatly impact a person’s overall quality of life. They include appearing to be emotionally flat, dull, or disconnected, and having little interest or motivation to engage with other people or take part in normal daily activities. These symptoms are often mistaken for depression.

Related: Mental Health

Who's at risk and what causes it?

Schizophrenia appears to have several possible causes. There is evidence that genetics play a role. Approximately 10 percent of people diagnosed have a parent or sibling with the disease. Environmental exposure to viruses or malnutrition before birth also seems to increase the risk of developing the disease. In addition, several studies have found that taking mind-altering drugs (for example smoking marijuana) during adolescence or young adulthood can increase your risk as well.

Related: Why Americans Need to Talk About Mental Health

What do I do if I notice the symptoms in myself or in someone I care about?

While there is no cure for schizophrenia, treatments can help people manage the illness and live more fulfilling lives. Treatment consists of antipsychotic medications and psychotherapy to learn self-management strategies. It is important to have a comprehensive medical evaluation to get a proper diagnosis and treatment plan, so if you suspect that someone you care about is suffering from schizophrenia, you should encourage them to see a physician. If you’re not sure where to go for help, talk to your family physician or if the symptoms are extreme go directly to an emergency room.  

Related: Quiz: How Healthy Is Your Brain?

Article written by Erin L. Olivo, PhD
Erin L. Olivo, PhD is an Asst. Professor of Medical Psychology at Columbia University, College of Physicians and Surgeons