Schizophrenia is a serious mental illness that causes frequent or continuous states of psychosis, leading to a detachment from reality and potentially debilitating symptoms. Approximately 24 million (1 in 300) people worldwide have schizophrenia. However, it is not as common as many other mental health disorders, and most people have suffered progressing symptoms without noticing.

Understanding schizophrenia, recognizing its signs, and seeking professional treatment early are keys to the lifelong management of the illness.

What is schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia is a serious mental illness that affects how a person interprets the reality around them. It influences their feelings, thoughts, and behavior, causing frequent or continuous psychotic episodes.

People who have schizophrenia may look like they’ve lost touch with reality. The symptoms of schizophrenia can be debilitating, affecting the person’s ability to live normally and potentially leading to mental disability if not treated.

There’s no cure for schizophrenia, but effective treatments can allow one to be independent, work, and study.

Symptoms of schizophrenia

Schizophrenia’s best-known symptoms are those associated with psychosis, losing the sense of shared reality with those around them, and abnormally experiencing the world.

Common symptoms include:

  • Delusions. Strong but irrational and untrue beliefs about themselves, those around them, and the world. Believing that others are out to harm them is common.
  • Hallucinations. Hering, seeing, and feeling things that aren’t there. Hearing disembodied voices is very common.
  • Disordered thinking. Finding it difficult to come up with rational and logical thoughts. Their speech may also be disordered.
  • Abnormal body movements. Like obsessively repeating specific motions.

Violent behavior is not commonly associated with schizophrenia, despite the stigmas associated with debilitating mental illness.

Causes of schizophrenia

The exact cause of schizophrenia remains unknown. The most common contributing factors include a combination of genetic predisposition, brain chemistry, and environmental factors.

Genetic factors and family history

Schizophrenia tends to run in families. This doesn’t mean that every family member is at risk of developing schizophrenia, though. Researchers from the National Institute of Mental Health have identified 250 locations in the human genome that play a role in the risk of schizophrenia. Individual locations play minimal roles, but collectively they can increase the risk of suffering from the disease.

Brain chemistry and structure

How brain structure and chemistry relate to schizophrenia is not fully known. Still, researchers believe that the size of specific brain areas and the connections between certain brain areas may play a role in the risk of suffering from it.

Environmental factors

Environmental factors, in addition to genetic risk factors, can hugely influence the onset of schizophrenia. Pregnancy and birth complications, advanced parental age, and social adversities have all been documented as risk factors for schizophrenia. Migration, isolation, and social inequality as well. Some studies also point out that cannabis and other substance use is highly prevalent in psychotic paints, which correlates to evidence that suggests psychostimulants (such as amphetamines and cocaine) can induce psychosis.

Diagnosis of schizophrenia

The primary source of criteria for diagnosing schizophrenia comes from the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), the most current edition of the DSM.

The main criteria for diagnosing schizophrenia is the presence of at least two of the following five items: delusions, hallucinations, disorganized speech, grossly disorganized or catatonic behavior, and negative symptoms.

The symptoms must be present for a “clinically significant portion of time” during one month. Continuous symptoms must persist for at least six months.

The DSM-5 also includes provisions for people who may suffer these symptoms due to drug use or have autism or a communication disorder.

The most common methods of diagnosing schizophrenia include:

  • Blood tests to rule out substance abuse or interactions between medications.
    Imaging studies like MRI and CT scans.
  • Physical exams to rule out other medical issues that could cause schizophrenia-like symptoms.
  • Psychiatric evaluations. A mental health professional evaluates the patient by asking questions about their personal and family history, drug use history, thoughts, delusions, hallucinations, and potential suicidal ideas.

Treatment for schizophrenia

There’s no cure for schizophrenia, but there are effective treatment programs that help manage symptoms, function in day-to-day life, and achieve life goals.


Antipsychotic drugs are the most commonly prescribed medications for schizophrenia. They make symptoms less frequent and severe. Antipsychotics can be taken as daily pills or as monthly or semi-monthly injections. Psychiatrists may need to go through multiple antipsychotics until they find a combination of drugs that manages symptoms at the lowest possible dose. Side effects like weight gain, dry mouth, restlessness, and drowsiness are common.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is an option for people with schizophrenia. The therapist helps the person modify beliefs and behaviors that can lead to negative emotions. These coping skills help them manage emotionally tricky situations.

Psychosocial treatment

Psychosocial treatment helps people manage symptoms and usually function in society. These treatments are often received while taking medication. Examples of psychosocial treatments include supported employment, cognitive remediation interventions, vocational rehabilitation, and social skills training.

Living with schizophrenia

People diagnosed with schizophrenia can experience an increased risk of mortality due to the risk of suicide, particularly those who also suffer from depression. However, treatment can help individuals lead healthy, meaningful, and productive lives with better outcomes.

Developing social and emotional coping strategies is crucial for managing schizophrenia, a lifelong illness without a cure. Some of the most common coping methods include the following:

  • Getting enough sleep to prevent the onset of sleep deprivation-induced hallucinations.
  • Exercising.
  • Spending time outdoors.
  • Journaling feelings and thoughts about psychotic symptoms.
  • Taking medication as prescribed.
  • Surrounding yourself with a robust support system of friends and family.
  • Frequenting support groups for schizophrenia or severe mental illness.
  • Using what you learned in therapy to manage negative emotions.

Finding Help for Schizophrenia

If you or a family member shows symptoms of psychosis, like hallucinations and delusions, it’s essential to seek help and support as soon as possible. Experts recognize early treatment for schizophrenia as extremely important for the long-term management of symptoms. It can make a significant difference in improving quality of life.

Related Conditions

  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Borderline Personality Disorder
  • Substance Use Disorder

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