Schizophrenia is a mental illness which affects social behavior and the ability to determine what is real. It is a lifelong, serious illness. Schizophrenia affects people of all genders, races, social classes and cultures. In total, the condition affects about 51 million people worldwide. Types include paranoid, disorganized, catatonic, residual, and schizoaffective.
Symptoms may include delusions, hallucinations, disorganized speech and behavior, and negative symptoms such as social withdrawal, poor hygiene and lack of inhibition. Symptoms often begin between the ages of 16 and 25 and may occur earlier in males. Schizophrenia may also cause problems with memory, attention and socialization.
The causes of schizophrenia are poorly understood but are believed to be caused by both genetics and the environment. Several genes when damaged are known to increase the risk of developing schizophrenia, but more are expected to be found. Other risk factors include exposure to malnutrition or viral infections before birth; heavy, frequent use of marijuana by teens and young adults; and problems with certain brain chemicals or neurotransmitters (dopamine and glutamate). Other factors which affect brain development may also be involved.
Diagnosis is made by examining the symptoms and ruling out other possible causes. Treatment includes antipsychotic medication and medications to help treat anxiety and depression. Group therapy may also be helpful. Treatment is lifelong, but it is often difficult to keep someone with schizophrenia on medications. Self-medication with street drugs is common. Suicide is a real concern. If you or a family member has been diagnosed with schizophrenia, talk to your psychiatrist, psychologist or therapist about the most current treatment options. A genetic counselor can help explain risks to other family members. Support groups are also good resources and can connect you with others affected by schizophrenia.