What is schizophrenia?
Schizophrenia is a chronic, severe, and disabling brain disorder. It
affects about 1 percent of people all over the world (including 3.2
million Americans) and has been recognized throughout recorded history.
People with schizophrenia may hear voices other people don’t hear or
believe that others are reading their minds, controlling their thoughts,
or plotting to harm them. These experiences are terrifying and can
cause fearfulness, withdrawal, or extreme agitation. People with
schizophrenia may not make sense when they talk, may sit for hours
without moving or talking much, or can seem perfectly fine until they
talk about what they are really thinking. Since many people with
schizophrenia have difficulty holding a job or caring for themselves,
the burden on their families and society is significant as well.
Available treatments can relieve many of the disorder’s symptoms, but
most people who have schizophrenia must cope with some residual
symptoms as long as they live. Nevertheless, this is a time of hope for
people with schizophrenia and their families. Many people with the
disorder now lead rewarding and meaningful lives in the community.
Researchers are developing more effective medications and using new
research tools to understand the causes of schizophrenia and find ways
to prevent and treat it.
This brochure will present information on the symptoms of
schizophrenia, when they appear, how the disease develops, current
treatments, new directions in research, and support groups for patients
and their loved ones.
When does it start and who gets it?
Psychotic symptoms (such as hallucinations and delusions) usually
emerge in men in their late teens and early twenties and in women in
their mid-twenties to early thirties. They seldom occur after age 45 and
only rarely before puberty, although cases of schizophrenia in children
as young as five have been reported. In adolescents, the first signs
can include a change of friends, a drop in grades, sleep problems, and
irritability. Since many normal adolescents exhibit these behaviors as
well, a diagnosis can be difficult to make at this stage. In young
people who go on to develop the disease, this is called the “prodromal”
Research has shown that schizophrenia affects men and women equally
and occurs at similar rates in all ethnic groups around the world.