Schizophrenia is a mental disorder that makes it hard to:

  • Tell the difference between what is real and not real
  • Think clearly
  • Have normal emotional responses
  • Act normally in social situations

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

Schizophrenia is a complex illness. Mental health experts are not sure what causes it. However, genes may play a role.

  • Certain events may trigger schizophrenia in people who are at risk for it because of their genes.
  • You are more likely to develop schizophrenia if you have a family member with the disease.

Schizophrenia affects both men and women equally. It usually begins in the teen years or young adulthood, but it may begin later in life. It tends to begin later in women, and is more mild.

Childhood-onset schizophrenia begins after age 5. Childhood schizophrenia is rare and can be hard to tell apart from other developmental problems in childhood, such as autism.


Schizophrenia symptoms usually develop slowly over months or years. Sometimes you may have many symptoms, and at other times you may only have a few symptoms.

People with any type of schizophrenia may have trouble keeping friends and working. They may also have problems with anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts or behaviors.

At first, you may have the following symptoms:

  • Irritable or tense feeling
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Trouble sleeping

As the illness continues, you may have problems with thinking, emotions, and behavior, including:

  • Bizarre behaviors
  • Hearing or seeing things that are not there (hallucinations)
  • Isolation
  • Lack of emotion (flat affect)
  • Problems paying attention
  • Strongly held beliefs that are not real (delusions)
  • Thoughts that "jump" between different topics (“loose associations”)

Symptoms depend on the type of schizophrenia you have.

Paranoid schizophrenia symptoms may include:

  • Anxiety
  • Anger or arguing
  • False beliefs that others are trying to harm you or your loved ones

Disorganized schizophrenia symptoms may include:

  • Childlike behavior
  • Problems thinking and explaining your ideas clearly
  • Showing little emotion

Catatonic schizophrenia symptoms may include:

  • Grimacing or other odd expressions on the face
  • Lack of activity
  • Rigid muscles and posture
  • Not responding much to other people

Undifferentiated schizophrenia may include symptoms of more than one other type of schizophrenia.

Signs and tests

There are no medical tests to diagnose schizophrenia. A psychiatrist should examine you to make the diagnosis. The diagnosis is made based on an interview of you and your family members.

The health care provider will ask questions about:

  • How long the symptoms have lasted
  • How the ability to function has changed
  • Developmental background
  • Genetic and family history
  • How well medications have worked

Brain scans (such as CT or MRI) and blood tests may help rule out other conditions that have similar symptoms.


During an episode of schizophrenia, you may need to stay in the hospital for safety reasons.

Supportive therapy may be helpful for many people with schizophrenia. Behavioral techniques, such as social skills training, can be used to improve social and work functioning. Job training and relationship-building classes are important.

Family members of a person with schizophrenia should be educated about the disease and offered support. Programs that offer outreach and community support services can help people who lack family and social support.

Family members and caregivers are often encouraged to help people with schizophrenia stay with their treatment.

It is important that the person with schizophrenia learns how to:

  • Take medications correctly and manage side effects
  • Notice the early signs of a relapse and what to do if symptoms return
  • Cope with symptoms that occur even while taking medication (a therapist can help)
  • Manage money
  • Use public transportation

Above information taken from: www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0001925/

For additional information about schizophrenia, visit:






Admitted: Why you should disclose your mental illness in an unrelated emergency
Cathy J. Rubel, PMHNP-BC
Certified Nurse Practitioner


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