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What Is Schizophrenia?

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angry woman with schizophrenia

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  • Schizophrenia is a debilitating mental illness that causes hallucinations, delusions and changes in behavioral patterns. It is estimated to affect 1% of the world population
  • People diagnosed with schizophrenia, also known as schizophrenics, often have a distorted view of reality

Schizophrenia is a psychosis, a debilitating mental illness that causes hallucinations, delusions and changes in behavioral patterns and disturbances in emotions. Depending on which organization is reporting it, it is estimated to affect anywhere from 0.3% to more than 1% of the world’s population. In numbers this means that an estimated 21 million to 51 million people worldwide have schizophrenia.1,2,3

One reason the numbers are so hard to aggregate is because many people do not seek care for their mental illness due to stigma and fear of being labeled as mentally ill.4 People diagnosed with schizophrenia often have a distorted view of reality. They may see or hear things that aren't really there, or they may form convoluted, paranoid plots about supernatural beings or the government.

The 5 Defining Symptoms of Schizophrenia

The following symptoms are present in schizophrenics, and may come in different combinations and with varying severity:5

Delusions — Delusions occur when you believe strongly in something but it really isn't true. A delusion may manifest as a perception that someone is “out to get you,” or sometimes you may feel that someone or something is sending a specific, coded message only for you. You may also believe that you're being controlled by supernatural forces.

Hallucinations — Similar to delusions, hallucinations are things that you think you see, hear, feel or smell, but do not exist in reality. Some hallucinations commonly manifest as voices in your head that you believe are talking to you or sending you messages.

Disorganized speech — This refers to changes in speech patterns, such as having trouble maintaining a train of thought during a conversation.

Disorganized behavior — When normal routines and behavior patterns are suddenly disrupted, this is typically called disorganized behavior. Examples include impulsive behavior and a drop in performance in work or school.

Negative symptoms — This refers to behavior patterns that are drastically reduced or personality traits that have seemingly disappeared, such as a lack of emotional expression or enthusiasm, monotonous speaking and very minimal replies to questions.

Early Signs You Should Watch Out For

The table below outlines the early signs of schizophrenia. However, they may point to a different condition as well. Either way, should you or a loved one develop any of these, consult a doctor right away to discover the underlying condition:6

  • Social withdrawal
  • Deterioration of personal hygiene
  • Inability to cry or express joy
  • Depression
  • Odd or irrational statements
  • Extreme reaction to criticism
  • Hostility or suspiciousness
  • Flat, expressionless gaze
  • Inappropriate laughter or crying
  • Oversleeping or insomnia
  • Forgetfulness and inability to concentrate
  • Strange use of words or way of speaking

What's It Like to Have Schizophrenia?

Many people turn to movies and other media to learn more about schizophrenia and other mental illnesses. Sadly, media sources typically portray schizophrenics in a bad light, such as having a propensity for violence, even to the point of homicidal behavior.7 By cultivating this negative stereotype over the years, Hollywood has sent the message that schizophrenia can lead to destructive behavior.

In truth, many schizophrenics are able to live fulfilling lives. Elyn R. Saks, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia at 28 years of age, is one example. Through treatment and support, she is now the associate dean and Orrin B. Evans professor of law, psychology and the behavioral sciences at the University of Southern California Gould Law School.8 Her success serves as an inspiration to schizophrenics who are just starting get their life back on track.

MORE ABOUT SCHIZOPHRENIA

Schizophrenia: Introduction

What Is Schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia Types

Schizophrenia in Children

Schizophrenia Causes

Is Schizophrenia Hereditary?

Schizophrenia Symptoms

Schizophrenia Diagnosis

Schizophrenia Treatment

Famous People With Schizophrenia

Schizophrenia Prevention

Living With Schizophrenia

Schizophrenia FAQ

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