Schizophrenia is a serious mental illness characterized by the presence of hallucinations, delusions, disorganized speech and behavior, and a lack of emotional expression. When left untreated, it significantly impacts a person’s thoughts, behaviors, and emotions, usually to the point of being unable to function in major areas of their life (such as relationships, taking care of themselves, work, or school).
According to the American Psychiatric Association (2013), delusions, hallucinations, or disorganized speech must be present and the symptoms must have persisted for at least 6 months in order for a mental health professional to be able to make a diagnosis. Most people with schizophrenia are first diagnosed in young adulthood (18 through 28 years of age), but a person can be diagnosed with this disorder at any age as an adult.
Schizophrenia is misunderstood by many and often mis-portrayed in popular media, such as television shows and movies. It is a common disorder to reference in popular culture when a person wants to suggest that someone is “crazy” or “unhinged.” Sadly, such portrayals are usually inaccurate and more importantly reinforce negative stereotypes about people with this disorder.
The reality is far more complex. Many people with schizophrenia lead fairly ordinary, “normal” lives, because they keep the symptoms of the disorder under control with treatment (most often, antipsychotic medications). Some people with this disorder are homeless, while others find themselves in trouble with the criminal justice system. Still others live in group homes or with their extended family, who help with everyday activities that might otherwise seem overwhelming or challenging. In short, if you’ve met one person with schizophrenia, you’ve met just one person — it is nearly impossible to generalize about people with this diagnosis.
We’ve developed this guide of the most valuable articles we’ve written about this serious mental illness. If you still have questions after reading through the guide, it is suggested you speak to a mental health professional — such as a psychologist or psychiatrist — about your concerns. Only a mental health professional can make a reliable, accurate diagnosis of this condition.