Schizophrenia is a mental illness, but is sometimes incorrectly referred to as a “brain disease.” It is officially classified by researchers as a mental disorder, not a medical disease, because there is no known medical, physical cause of the condition, nor are there any reliable blood tests or other physical signs that can determine the existence of schizophrenia in any given person. It is diagnosed based solely upon the self-report of the individual and observations by others.

What are some common myths about schizophrenia?

  • A person with schizophrenia has a “split personality”
  • Poor parenting is to blame for a person getting schizophrenia
  • A person with schizophrenia can choose to simply quit
  • Schizophrenia is easily treated
  • A person with schizophrenia is more likely to be violent

How common is schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia occurs at a rate of about 1 out of 100 or 150 people (approximately 1 percent of the population), and affects people at every socioeconomic status. It is not considered a common mental disorder.

How is schizophrenia diagnosed?

Schizophrenia is most often diagnosed by a mental health professional, such as a psychologist or psychiatrist, who is trained in the diagnosis of mental disorders. The professional makes the diagnosis based upon an extensive clinical interview and history-taking, which will usually include:

  • General medical history (of the individual and family)
  • Mental health history (of the individual and family)
  • Use or abuse of substances such as alcohol, cocaine, heroin or other street drugs

What causes schizophrenia?

The cause of schizophrenia is unknown. There are, however, many different theories of what causes schizophrenia and these theories have varying amounts of research to back them. Determining the cause in any single individual usually does not alter the recommended course of treatment or treatment outcomes.

Why is it so important to be able to recognize symptoms of schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia is a serious disorder that has a significant impact in the individual’s life and the life of their family and friends. The sooner it is diagnosed, the quicker treatment can begin and the more likely the person will experience a positive treatment outcome. Because relapse is a recurring issue with people who are diagnosed with schizophrenia, it’s important for family members to recognize symptoms of schizophrenia to help the individual decrease the time in relapse.

What are the symptoms of schizophrenia?

A diagnosis of schizophrenia is made when a pattern of two or more of these symptoms is present most of the time for one month (or less time if treated successfully):

  • Hallucinations. Hallucinations are experiences in which any one or more of the person’s five senses “plays tricks” on him or her, giving misinformation. The most common hallucination is hearing voices that no one else hears.
  • Delusions. Delusions are false beliefs, firmly held by the ill person but which other people do not believe. An example of a delusion is when someone is convinced and goes to great lengths to prove that he or she is a great singer, but isn’t.
  • Disorganized speech. This is characterized by the person’s speech being hard to follow or the person can’t stay on topic when talking.
  • Extremely confused, disorganized, or withdrawn behavior
  • Negative symptoms, such as:
    • Face shows no expression
    • When talking, the person does not give much information
    • The person has problems being motivated to do things

What about recovery?

Currently there is no known cure for schizophrenia, but the majority of individuals — some say more than 90 percent — can expect to recover a level of functioning that allows a satisfactory life in their community. In about two-thirds of cases, there will be occasional periods of illness with many symptoms of schizophrenia, followed by long periods during which there will be only a few symptoms of schizophrenia present. About half of people who receive the diagnosis of schizophrenia will experience some disability and need special support and consideration regarding employment and lifestyle maintenance.

Lifestyle changes that support recovery and wellness:

1. Have regular appointments with your doctor and case manager. Work with a psychiatrist and case manager in whom you have confidence, to control the symptoms of your illness and related problems. You should have regular appointments, usually at least monthly, with the ability to make telephone calls to your doctor and case manager between appointments if you feel the need to talk to them about symptoms, side effects from your medication, or other concerns affecting your illness.

2. Put nothing into your body that would imbalance your brain chemistry. No alcohol. No street drugs. No marijuana. No diet pills. Switch to decaffeinated coffee and decaf soft drinks. Be sure to read labels to avoid caffeine. Eat very little chocolate.

3. Learn and practice good stress management techniques.

  • Build “routines” into your daily life, including regular bedtimes, regular mealtimes, etc. Remain faithful to these routines once they are set (and, in particular, don’t “blow” them during holidays or at other special occasions).
  • Take “time out” periods to let yourself calm down and slow down when you feel you’ve gotten too much stimulation.
  • Pace your life activities well–not “too fast/too much” but also not “too slow/ too boring”. Try for a pleasantly busy but unhurried life.
  • Have a hobby.
  • Make the effort to have friends and be a friend.
  • Choose to focus on the positive instead of dwelling on the negative. Encourage yourself; don’t bring yourself down.

4. Do what’s necessary to be as well as you can be on a daily basis. Get 8 hours of sleep per night. Eat right. Exercise (brisk walking is excellent). Stay positive and hopeful. Have some time in each day during which you do something productive — chores, job, volunteering, or attending a clubhouse.

5. Monitor your symptoms daily. Know the early warning signs of relapse. When symptoms increase, contact your doctor or case manager immediately. Nip relapse in the bud!

What are the most common reasons for relapse?

Two common mistakes that lead to the re-emergence of schizophrenia symptoms again are for the individual (1) to stop taking prescribed medication or (2) to use alcohol or street drugs.