Schizophrenia is a chronic psychiatric disorder. People with this disorder experience distortions of reality, often experiencing delusions or hallucinations.
Although exact estimates are difficulty to obtain, it’s estimated to affect about 1 percent of the population.
Misconceptions about this disorder are common. For example, some people think it creates a “split personality.” In fact, schizophrenia and split personality — properly termed dissociative identity disorder — are two different disorders.
Schizophrenia can occur in men and women of all ages. Men often develop symptoms in their late teens or early 20s. Women tend to show signs in their late 20s and early 30s. Here’s what you need to know.
Symptoms of schizophrenia may include the following:
Symptoms of this disorder commonly show up in the teenage years and early 20s. At these ages, the earliest signs may get overlooked because of typical adolescent behaviors.
Early symptoms include:
- isolating oneself from friends and family
- changing friends or social groups
- a change in focus and concentration
- sleep problems
- irritability and agitation
- difficulties with schoolwork, or poor academic performance
“Positive” symptoms of schizophrenia are behaviors that aren’t typical in otherwise healthy individuals. These behaviors include:
- Hallucinations. Hallucinations are experiences that appear real but are created by your mind. They include seeing things, hearing voices, or smelling things others around you don’t experience.
- Delusions. A delusion occurs when you believe something despite evidence or facts to the contrary.
- Thought disorders. These are unusual ways of thinking or processing information.
- Movement disorders. These include agitated body movements or strange postures.
Negative symptoms of schizophrenia interrupt a person’s typical emotions, behaviors, and abilities. These symptoms include:
- disorganized thinking or speech, where the person changes topics rapidly when speaking or uses made-up words or phrases
- trouble controlling impulses
- odd emotional responses to situations
- a lack of emotion or expressions
- loss of interest or excitement for life
- social isolation
- trouble experiencing pleasure
- difficulty beginning or following through with plans
- difficulty completing normal everyday activities
Cognitive symptoms of schizophrenia are sometimes subtle and may be difficult to detect. However, the disorder can affect memory and thinking.
These symptoms include:
- disorganized thinking, such as trouble focusing or paying attention
- poor “executive functioning,” or understanding information and using it to make decisions
- problems learning information and using it
- lack of insight or being unaware of their symptoms
Symptoms of schizophrenia can be difficult to detect. Learn more about all the possible signs of the disorder that may make recognizing them easier.
The exact cause of schizophrenia is unknown. Medical researchers believe several factors can contribute, including:
Recent studies have suggested that imaging tests completed on people with schizophrenia may show abnormalities in certain brain structures. Ongoing research in this area continues. Chemical abnormalities in the brain are believed to be responsible for many of the symptoms seen in schizophrenia.
Researchers also believe low levels of certain brain chemicals that affect emotions and behavior may contribute to this psychiatric disorder.
Genetics may also play a role. People with a family history of schizophrenia have a higher risk of developing this disorder.
Other risk factors for schizophrenia may include:
- exposure to toxins or a virus before birth or during infancy
- having an inflammatory or an autoimmune disease
- using mind-altering drugs
- high stress levels
Schizophrenia was once divided into five subtypes. In 2013, the subtypes were eliminated. Today, schizophrenia is one diagnosis.
The names of the individual types help doctors and healthcare providers plan treatments. However, they no longer are used as a clinical diagnosis.
These types included:
- Paranoid. In 2013, doctors decided that paranoia is a “positive” symptom of the disorder, not a separate type.
- Hebephrenic or disorganized. This type was diagnosed in people who didn’t experience hallucinations or delusions but did have disorganized speech or behaviors.
- Undifferentiated. Doctors diagnosed people with this subtype who showed more than one type of predominant symptom.
- Residual. If someone was diagnosed with schizophrenia early in their life but didn’t show symptoms later, this subtype might have been used for them.
- Catatonic. As the name suggests, this subtype was diagnosed in people who showed signs of mutism or who developed a stupor-like affect.
Though the subtypes aren’t used to diagnose schizophrenia any longer, you can read more about each one and the symptoms that classified them.
There isn’t a single test to diagnose schizophrenia. A complete psychiatric exam can help your doctor make a diagnosis. You’ll need to see a psychiatrist or a mental health professional.
At your appointment, expect to answer questions about:
- your medical history
- your mental health
- your family medical history
Your doctor may conduct the following:
- a physical exam
- blood work
- imaging tests, including magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computed tomography (CT) scan
Sometimes, there can be other reasons for your symptoms, even though they may be similar to those of schizophrenia. These reasons may include:
- substance use
- certain medications
- other mental illnesses
Your doctor may diagnose schizophrenia if you’ve had at least two symptoms for a one-month period. These symptoms must include:
- disorganized speech
There’s no cure for schizophrenia. If you’re diagnosed with this disorder, you’ll need lifelong treatment. Treatments can control or reduce the severity of symptoms.
It’s important to get treatment from a psychiatrist or mental health professional who has experience treating people with this disorder. You may also work with a social worker or a case manager, too.
Possible treatments include the following:
Antipsychotic medication is the most common treatment for schizophrenia. Medication can help stop:
- symptoms of psychosis
If psychosis occurs, you may be hospitalized and receive treatment under close medical supervision.
Another treatment option for schizophrenia is psychosocial intervention. This includes individual therapy to help you cope with stress and your illness.
Social training can improve your social and communication skills.
Vocational rehabilitation can provide you with the skills you need to return to work. It may make maintaining a regular job easier.
Alternative treatments for schizophrenia
Medication is important for treating schizophrenia. However, some individuals with the disorder may want to consider complementary medicine. If you choose to use these alternative treatments, work with your doctor to make sure the treatment is safe.
Types of alternative treatments used for schizophrenia include:
- vitamin treatment
- fish oil supplements
- glycine supplements
- diet management
Research supporting these alternative treatments is limited. Read more to decide if one is right for you.
Paranoid schizophrenia was the most commonly diagnosed form of the disorder. Then, in 2013, the American Psychiatric Association decided schizophrenia subtypes weren’t separate conditions.
Today, a doctor or healthcare professional won’t diagnose someone with this condition. The diagnosis instead will be simply schizophrenia. The predominant symptom may be paranoia, though. Knowing this will help inform a doctor about potential treatment plans.
Not everyone with the disorder will experience paranoia. However, recognizing the symptoms of paranoid schizophrenia can help you or a loved one get treatment.
Catatonic was another previously used type of schizophrenia. However, it’s no longer used as a diagnosis. Instead, only one type is diagnosed.
The symptoms of catatonic schizophrenia included:
- flat affect
- stupor-like condition
- refusal to comply with instructions
While this diagnosis is no longer used, understanding schizophrenia further may help you recognize it and seek treatment faster.
A diagnosis of schizophrenia is common in people in their teens and early 20s. Although less common, it can begin earlier. When symptoms occur before the age of 13, the condition is sometimes called early onset or childhood schizophrenia.
Diagnosing this condition is difficult. Behavior changes aren’t unusual as children and teens develop. Plus, some of the most common symptoms of this mental health disorder also show up in other conditions. These include:
Symptoms of childhood schizophrenia include:
- unusual fears or anxieties (paranoia)
- sleep problems
- emotional swings
- hearing voices or seeing things (hallucinations)
- decreased attention to self-care
- sudden changes in behavior
- deterioration in academic performance
It’s important to separate the behaviors that may occur in growing children and teenagers with symptoms of a serious mental health condition. Read more about the possible signs of childhood schizophrenia.
Schizophrenia and psychosis may be confused for one another, but they’re not the same. One is a mental health condition — the other is a symptom.
Psychosis is a break from reality. During an episode of psychosis, you may hear voices, see things that aren’t real, or believe things that aren’t true.
Psychosis is one element or symptom of several mental health disorders, including schizophrenia. Psychosis can also occur in people with no other symptoms of mental health issues.
Although psychosis can occur in people with schizophrenia, not everyone with this disorder will experience psychosis. If you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of psychosis, seek treatment immediately.
- Schizophrenia is typically diagnosed in people in their late teens to early 30s.
- Men tend to show symptoms earlier. They’re also diagnosed earlier, between late adolescence and their early 20s.
- Women tend to be diagnosed later, from their early 20s to early 30s.
- The disorder is more common in men than women.
- Research suggests that schizophrenia occurs in less than 1 percent of people. It affects more than 21 million people around the world.
- Your risk for the disorder is 10 percent if you have a first-degree relative with it, such as a parent or sibling.
- Worldwide, schizophrenia is one of the 15 most debilitating disorders.
- People with this disorder are two to three times more likely to die prematurely.
- Almost half of people with the disorder also have other mental health issues.
- Nearly 5 percent of people with the disorder die by suicide. That’s higher than the general population.
- More than half of people with the disorder aren’t receiving appropriate care.
Schizophrenia and bipolar disorder are both chronic mental health conditions. They may share some characteristics, however, there are distinct differences.
During these episodes, it’s possible that someone with bipolar will experience hallucinations or delusions, especially in a manic episode. Experiencing psychosis along with mood shifts may make completing everyday tasks harder.
Likewise, people with schizophrenia may experience hallucinations or delusions, but they’re also very likely to experience disorganized thinking and speech. Unlike someone with bipolar disorder in the manic phase, the symptoms of psychosis aren’t accompanied by mania.
No test can determine which condition you have. Instead, your doctor may perform a comprehensive psychiatric evaluation and order some tests to help rule out possible causes. These tests could include blood tests, imaging tests, and drug screening tests.
With those results, your doctor may begin to monitor your behavior and symptoms to find a diagnosis that fits what you’re experiencing.
If you’re curious about the similarities and differences between bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, read how they compare.
The prognosis for individuals with schizophrenia varies. It depends largely on the person’s overall health, age, symptoms, and treatment plan.
A 2014 study reported that even with treatment, only 20 percent of individuals with the disorder report favorable outcomes. Others may continue to experience symptoms for the remainder of their lives.
The reason for this percentage is likely due to the fact that more than half of people with this disorder don’t receive adequate treatment. Almost 5 percent of people with the disorder die by suicide.
- If you think someone is at immediate risk of self-harm or hurting another person:
- • Call 911 or your local emergency number.
- • Stay with the person until help arrives.
- • Remove any guns, knives, medications, or other things that may cause harm.
- • Listen, but don’t judge, argue, threaten, or yell.
- If you or someone you know is considering suicide, get help from a crisis or suicide prevention hotline. Try the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.
Treatment programs that involve families have been shown to have great success. They decrease the need for hospitalization and improve social functioning.
That’s why it’s so important you work with a trained mental health professional or doctor to find a treatment plan that’s easy to maintain and most helpful for you.
Schizophrenia is a severe mental illness that shouldn’t be ignored or left untreated. The illness increases the risk of serious complications, such as:
Schizophrenia can also make it difficult to work or attend school. If you can’t work or support yourself financially, there’s a higher risk for poverty and homelessness.
There’s no way to prevent schizophrenia. Still, identifying who’s at risk and how to prevent the disorder from occurring in at-risk individuals has been an important focus of researchers in recent years.
It’s possible to enjoy a healthy, symptom-free life. Schizophrenia symptoms can go away for a while and then return. Following your doctor’s recommendations will improve your prognosis.
According to the Royal College of Psychiatrists, 3 out of every 5 people diagnosed with schizophrenia will get better with treatment. To get on the road to improvement, it’s important to:
- learn about your condition
- understand the risk factors
- follow your doctor’s treatment plan