Who has schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia is one of the most common mental illnesses. About 1 of every 100 people (1% of the population) is affected by schizophrenia. This disorder is found throughout the world and in all races and cultures. Schizophrenia affects men and women in equal numbers, although on average, men appear to develop schizophrenia earlier than women. Generally, men show the first signs of schizophrenia in their mid 20s and women show the first signs in their late 20s. Schizophrenia has a tremendous cost to society, estimated at $32.5 billion per year in the US (statistic from Brain Facts, Society for Neuroscience, 1997).

What are the symptoms of schizophrenia?

The American Psychiatric Association has published guidelines that are used to classify people with mental disorders. These symptoms include two or more of the following behaviors for a duration of at least one month:

Delusions - bizarre, false beliefs

These beliefs seem real to the person with schizophrenia, but they are not real. For example, a person may believe that aliens or spies are controlling his or her behavior, mind and thoughts. Sometimes these delusions can be paranoid in nature. People with paranoia have an unreal fear or suspicion that someone is "out to get them." Delusions may also be of grandiosity. In these cases, people believe that they are someone important, such as a president, king or prime minister.


Hallucinations - bizarre, unreal perceptions of the environment

These hallucinations can be:

    •  Auditory (hearing voices) - sometimes the "voices" tell a person to do something
    •  Visual (seeing lights, objects or faces)
    •  Olfactory (smelling things)
    •  Tactile (for example, feelings that bugs are crawling on or under the skin)
    •  Disorganized Thinking/Speech

Abnormal thoughts are usually measured by disorganized speech. People with schizophrenia speak very little; others have speech that is disjointed. Sometimes the person will change the topic midway through a sentence.

Negative Symptoms - the absence of normal behavior

Delusions, hallucinations and abnormal speech indicate the presence of abnormal behavior. Negative symptoms include social withdrawal, absence of emotion and expression, reduced energy, motivation and activity. Sometimes schizophrenics have poor hygiene and grooming habits.

Catatonia - immobility and "waxy flexibility"

Catatonia is a negative symptom where people become fixed in a single position for a long period of time. "Waxy flexibility" describes how a person's arms will remain frozen in a particular position if they are moved by someone else.

When people show any of these five symptoms, they are considered to be in the "active phase" of the disorder. Often schizophrenics have milder symptoms before and after the active phase.

There are three basic types of schizophrenia. All people who have schizophrenia have lost touch with reality. The three main types of schizophrenia are:

  •  Disorganized Schizophrenia (previously called "hebephrenic schizophrenia") - lack of emotion, disorganized speech
  •  Catatonic Schizophrenia - waxy flexibility, reduced movement, rigid posture, sometimes too much movement
  •  Paranoid Schizophrenia - strong delusions or hallucinations