Schizophrenia is a serious and chronic mental illness that impairs a person's thoughts and behavior, and if untreated, can include psychosis.
Schizophrenia is a disabling mental illness that affects more than 1 percent of the world's population. Individuals afflicted with this thought disorder experience hallucinations, disorganized thinking, and are prone to false and paranoid beliefs. These and other symptoms often render the individual fearful, withdrawn, or difficult to interact with.
Schizophrenia takes an enormous toll on afflicted families. Many people with schizophrenia have difficulty maintaining a job or living independently, though it is important to recognize that treatment, especially at the onset of symptoms, allows individuals with a diagnosis of schizophrenia to lead meaningful, productive lives.
Schizophrenia afflicts men and women in equal numbers and is found in similar rates in all ethnic groups around the world. The symptom presentation and age of onset do differ between the sexes, however. Men present with more negative symptoms (see below) and become symptomatic at a younger age. The peak age for onset in men is between ages 21 and 25. Women are more likely to be diagnosed between ages 25 and 30, and again after age 45. In women with late onset, hormonal changes associated with perimenopause or menopause are thought to be a contributing factor but the mechanism is unclear and has been a source of debate within the field of psychiatry.
Schizophrenia rarely occurs in children, but awareness of childhood-onset schizophrenia is increasing. It can be difficult to diagnose schizophrenia in teens because the first signs of the illness can include withdrawal from friends, a drop in grades, sleep problems, and irritability—common adolescent behaviors. The period prior to acute onset is known as the prodromal period and often includes withdrawing from others, and an increase in unusual thoughts and suspicions. It is critical to seek a professional opinion if a prodromal period is suspected because early intervention (prior to or just following a first psychotic episode) can greatly minimize symptoms and alter the course of the disease, leading to much higher lifetime functioning.
People with schizophrenia may display hostility or aggression. It should be noted, however, that the vast majority of people with schizophrenia are not aggressive and pose much more danger to themselves than to others.
Schizophrenia is typically a chronic condition and people with this diagnosis cope with symptoms throughout life. However, many people with schizophrenia lead rewarding and meaningful lives in their communities.