Schizophrenia is a chronic debilitating mental disorder characterized by psychotic (positive) symptoms, such as delusions, hallucinations, paranoia and disordered thinking, as well as more subtle (negative) symptoms, such as loss of motivation or judgment, memory problems, slowed movement, disinterest in hygiene, and social withdrawal.

Scientists believe that both genes and environmental factors play a role in the development of the disease. There is no one gene that causes the disease by itself, but rather people with schizophrenia tend to have higher rates of rare genetic mutations. This may involve hundreds of genes.

Schizophrenia occurs in approximately 1% of the population. Having a first-degree relative with schizophrenia puts one at 6-10% greater risk of developing the disease. If one parent is affected, the risk is about 13%. If both parents are affected, the risk is nearly 50%. For most patients, symptoms first appear during the late teens and early twenties. In fact, about 40% of men and 23% of women with schizophrenia experienced disease onset before the age of 19. Childhood and late adulthood onset is rare.

Treatment typically involves taking antipsychotic medications that work by affecting the brain’s neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin. These drugs target the positive, or psychotic, symptoms of schizophrenia; the negative symptoms are less responsive to medication and may ultimately become the most debilitating on a daily basis, resulting in a poorer quality of life.

Example: When Ralph was 17 years old, he began to lose interest in normal activities and started to withdraw from family and friends. At 20 years of age, he had his first episode of psychosis.