Schizophrenia is a devastating mental illness-the most chronic and disabling of the severe mental disorders. The first signs of schizophrenia, which typically emerge in young people in their teens or twenties, are confusing and often shocking to families and friends. Hallucinations, delusions, disordered thinking, unusual speech or behavior and social withdrawal impair the ability to interact with others. Most people with schizophrenia suffer chronically or episodically throughout their lives, losing opportunities for careers and relationships. They are stigmatized by lack of public understanding about the disease. While newer treatments with fewer side effects have improved the lives of many people with schizophrenia, only one in five recovers. One in 10 commits suicide.
Some Facts About Schizophrenia
- In the United States, more than 2 million people have schizophrenia.
- Schizophrenia costs the United States $32.5 billion annually.
- Worldwide, rates of schizophrenia are about 1% of the population, very similar from country to country.
- People with schizophrenia are far more likely to be victims of violence and
crime than to commit violent acts themselves. People with schizophrenia have an increased risk of violent behavior only when untreated or when engaging in substance abuse.
- Many years of family studies indicate that vulnerability to schizophrenia is inherited. However, among individuals with schizophrenia who have an identical twin, and thus share the exact genetic makeup, there is only a 50 percent chance that both twins will be affected with the disease. Scientists conclude that some environmental influence, perhaps occurring during fetal development, accounts for the difference.
- Advances in neuroimaging technology have shown that some people with schizophrenia have abnormalities in brain structure consisting of enlarged ventricles, fluid-filled cavities deep within the brain.
- Research indicates that schizophrenia may be a developmental disorder resulting from impaired migration of neurons in the brain during fetal development.
Treatments for Schizophrenia
A number of new, effective medications for schizophrenia with fewer side effects than older medications have been introduced in the past decade. The newer drugs are very effective in the treatment of psychosis, including hallucinations and delusions, and may also be helpful for treating reduced motivation or blunted emotional expression.
Because of the nature of the disorder, some people with schizophrenia may deny that they need medications and may either refuse to take them or stop taking them because of undesired side effects. Remembering to take medications may be difficult because of the disorganized thinking characteristic of people with schizophrenia.