What Is Schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia is a mental disorder that affects how a person thinks, feels, and behaves. People with schizophrenia may have difficulty distinguishing reality from fantasy, interpreting or expressing emotions, and communicating effectively with others. For many people, the condition can be disabling and may last lifelong without proper care.

Signs and Symptoms

Schizophrenia affects each individual differently and can cause a variety of symptoms, including:

  • Hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that aren’t there)
  • Delusions (believing things that aren’t true)
  • Disorganized thinking
  • Disorganized speech (rambling or illogical remarks)
  • Decreased personal hygiene
  • Inability to show emotion
  • Social withdrawal

Causes and Risk Factors

The exact cause of schizophrenia is unknown, but it is a chronic, lifelong condition that includes changes in the brain. Schizophrenia is thought to be caused by a combination of genetic, environmental, psychological, and physiological factors, including:

  • Family history – having a parent or sibling with schizophrenia increases your risk.
  • Substance abuse – people with schizophrenia are more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol, which can worsen their symptoms.
  • Prenatal factors – exposure to viruses, malnutrition, or toxins during pregnancy may increase risk.
  • Early life stress or trauma – this may increase risk in those already genetically predisposed.

Treatment and Management

Treatment for schizophrenia typically involves medications and psychotherapy. Medications are usually taken to reduce the symptoms of psychosis and to prevent relapses. Commonly prescribed medications include antipsychotics, antidepressants, mood stabilizers, anti-anxiety agents, and others. With treatment, individuals with schizophrenia can lead productive, fulfilling lives.

Psychotherapy can also play an important role in helping people with schizophrenia manage their symptoms and live healthier, more fulfilling lives. Cognitive behavioral therapy and other forms of therapy can help people with schizophrenia learn coping skills and adjust to their condition.