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What is schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia is one of the most complex of all mental health disorders. It involves a severe, chronic and disabling disturbance of the brain. Though schizophrenia was once classified as a psychological disease, it is now classified as a brain disease.


In general, psychotic disorders’ causes can range from substance abuse to strokes or traumatic brain injuries. There is no known single cause responsible for schizophrenia. It is believed that a chemical imbalance in the brain is an inherited factor necessary for schizophrenia to develop; however, it is likely that many factors—genetic, behavioral, environmental and medical—play a role in the development of this psychotic disorder.

Schizophrenia is considered to be multifactorially inherited. Multifactorial inheritance means that many factors are involved in someone developing the disorder. The factors are usually both genetic and environmental, where a combination of genes from both parents, in addition to environmental factors, produce the trait or condition. Often, one gender is affected more frequently than the other in multifactorial traits. Slightly more males develop schizophrenia in childhood; however, by adolescence, schizophrenia affects males and females equally.


One of the most disturbing and puzzling characteristics of schizophrenia is the sudden onset of its psychotic symptoms. The following are the most common symptoms of schizophrenia. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

  • Distorted perception of reality (i.e., difficulty telling dreams from reality)
  • Confused thinking (i.e., confusing television with reality)
  • Detailed and bizarre thoughts and ideas
  • Suspiciousness and/or paranoia (fearfulness that someone, or something, is going to harm them)
  • Hallucinations (seeing, hearing or feeling things that are not real, such as hearing voices telling them to do something)
  • Delusions (ideas that seem real but are not based in reality)
  • Extreme moodiness
  • Severe anxiety and/or fearfulness
  • Flat affect (lack of emotional expression when speaking) or inability to manage emotions
  • Difficulty in performing functions at work and/or school
  • Exaggerated self-worth and/or unrealistic sense of superiority of one's self
  • Social withdrawal (severe problems in making and keeping friends)
  • Disorganized or catatonic behavior (suddenly becoming agitated and confused, or sitting and staring, as if immobilized)
  • Odd behaviors

Schizophrenia symptoms are often classified as positive (symptoms including delusions, hallucinations and bizarre behavior), negative (symptoms including flat affect, withdrawal and emotional unresponsiveness), disorganized speech (including speech that is incomprehensible) and disorganized or catatonic behavior (including marked mood swings, sudden aggression or confusion, followed by sudden motionlessness and staring).

The symptoms of schizophrenia in children are similar to adults; however, children more often (in 80 percent of diagnosed cases) experience auditory hallucinations and typically do not experience delusions or formal thought disorders until mid-adolescence or older.

The symptoms of schizophrenia may resemble other problems or psychiatric conditions. Always consult your physician for a diagnosis.

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