Schizophrenia Quick Fact SheetSpeak the word “schizophrenia” and you’ll likely receive reactions peppered with misunderstanding and fear. The disorder is largely shrouded in myths, stereotypes and stigma. For instance, many equate schizophrenia with violence and criminals. But schizophrenia sufferers aren’t likelier to be violent than others, unless they have a criminal history before becoming sick or unless they abuse alcohol and drugs (see Schizophrenia and Violence). Also, despite its etymology and its portrayal in movies, schizophrenia isn’t a split personality: It literally means “split mind.”

Schizophrenia is a chronic, debilitating disorder, characterized by an inability to distinguish between what is real and what isn’t. A person with schizophrenia experiences hallucinations and delusional thoughts and is unable to think rationally, communicate properly, make decisions or remember information. To the public, a sufferer’s behavior might seem odd or outrageous. Not surprisingly, the disorder can ruin relationships and negatively affect work, school and everyday activities.

About one-third of individuals with schizophrenia attempt suicide. Fortunately, however, schizophrenia is treatable with both medication and therapy, making it imperative to recognize the symptoms and receive the correct diagnosis. The earlier a person is accurately diagnosed, the sooner he or she can start an effective treatment plan.

What Causes Schizophrenia?

As with other psychological disorders, it’s believed that schizophrenia is a complex interplay of genetics, biology (brain chemistry and structure) and environment.

  • Genetics: Schizophrenia typically runs in families, so it’s likely the disorder is inherited. If an identical twin has schizophrenia, the other twin is 50 percent more likely to have the disorder. That also points out the likelihood of other causes: If schizophrenia were purely genetic, both identical twins always would have the disorder.
  • Brain chemistry and structure: Neurotransmitters—chemicals in the brain, including dopamine and glutamate, that communicate between neurons—are believed to play a role. There also is evidence to suggest that the brains of individuals with schizophrenia are different from those of healthy individuals (for details, see Keshavan, Tandon, Boutros & Nasrallah, 2008).
  • Environment: Some research points to child abuse, early traumatic events, severe stress, negative life events and living in an urban environment as contributing factors. Additional causes include physical and psychological complications during pregnancy, such as viral infection, malnutrition and the mother’s stress.

What Are the Different Types of Schizophrenia?

  • Paranoid schizophrenia is characterized by auditory hallucinations and delusions about persecution or conspiracy. However, unlike those who have other subtypes of the disease, these individuals show relatively normal cognitive functioning.
  • Disorganized schizophrenia is a disruption of thought processes, so much so that daily activities (e.g., showering, brushing teeth) are impaired. Sufferers frequently exhibit inappropriate or erratic emotions. For instance, they might laugh at a sad occasion. Also, their speech becomes disorganized and nonsensical.
  • Catatonic schizophrenia involves a disturbance in movement. Some might stop moving (catatonic stupor) or experience radically increased movement (catatonic excitement). Also, these individuals might assume odd positions, continuously repeat what others are saying (echolalia) or imitate another person’s movement (echopraxia).
  • Undifferentiated schizophrenia includes several symptoms from the above types, but the symptoms don’t exactly fit the criteria for the other kinds of schizophrenia.
  • Residual schizophrenia is diagnosed when a person no longer exhibits symptoms or these symptoms aren’t as severe.

What Are the Risk Factors for Schizophrenia?

Recent research identified five risk factors for teens, which are similar in adults:

  1. Schizophrenia in the family
  2. Unusual thoughts
  3. Paranoia or suspicion
  4. Social impairment
  5. Substance abuse

Symptoms of Schizophrenia

There are three types of symptoms in schizophrenia: positive, negative and cognitive.

  1. Positive (symptoms that should not be present)

    • Hallucinations (something a person sees, smells, hears and feels that isn’t really there). The most common hallucination in schizophrenia is hearing voices.
    • Delusions (a false belief that isn’t true)
  2. Negative (symptoms that should be present)
    • Flat (individuals show no emotion) or inappropriate affect (e.g., giggling at a funeral)
    • Avolition (little interest or drive). This can mean little interest in daily activities, such as personal hygiene.

    These symptoms often are harder to recognize, because they’re so subtle.

  3. Cognitive symptoms (associated with thinking)
    • Disorganized speech (the person isn’t making any sense)
    • Grossly disorganized or catatonic (unresponsive) behavior
    • Inability to remember things
    • Poor executive functioning (a person is unable to process information and make decisions)