Schizophrenia is a psychiatric disorder characterized by major disturbances in thought, perception, emotion, and behavior. This disorder ranks among the most impairing forms of psychopathology, frequently having profound and negative effects on the educational, occupational, and social function of sufferers.
The onset most often occurs between the late teens and early thirties, with schizoaffective disorder most commonly appearing in the late teens to early twenties – just as adolescents begin transitioning into independent young adults. Associated disorders include schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, delusional disorder, schizotypal personality disorder, schizophreniform disorder, brief psychotic disorder, and psychosis associated with substance use or other medical conditions.
Schizophrenia affects nearly 1% of the population and is often confused with Multiple Personality Disorder though the two are unrelated. Depending on the duration and intensity of the disorder, individuals showing psychotic symptoms are diagnosed on the schizophrenia spectrum. Symptoms of this disorder fall into positive and negative categories. Positive symptoms are abnormal thoughts, perceptions, and behaviors that most individuals do not normally experience including delusions, hallucinations, disorganized thinking, and grossly disorganized behavior. The loss or decrease of a normal ability such as diminished emotional expression, decreased motivation to initiate purposeful activities, lack of speech, no interest in social interactions, and an inability to experience pleasure are negative symptoms.
Violence is not a symptom of schizophrenia. Popular media tends to link mental illness to criminal violence and one of the most common and enduring myths around schizophrenia is that all individuals with this disorder are violent. Most people with schizophrenia do not pose a danger to others, but are withdrawn, preferring to be left alone. While substance abuse does increase risk (especially if the illness is untreated), drugs and alcohol also increase the likelihood of violence in people with no mental illness.
Though a small number suffering from the acute symptoms of psychosis such as hallucinations and delusions do occasionally become violent, this is mainly due to the disorder’s influence on thinking rather than malice. Most sufferers never display dangerous behaviors and when violence does occur, people with schizophrenia are far more likely to harm themselves or die by suicide than be violent toward the public.
Schizophrenia is treatable, and many go on to lead full and productive lives. Because there is no exact known cause of the disorder, the best method of treatment is to try to eliminate the symptoms. This usually involves a variety of antipsychotic medications and several may be tried in order to find the most effective. Many experience side effects in the beginning but these (as well as the symptoms) should go away after a few days.
Once stabilized, psychosocial treatments to help deal with everyday challenges, such as communicating, work, and relationships, will begin. Studies have shown that patients undergoing these treatments are more likely to continue with medication and are less likely to suffer a relapse. Individuals should see a physician before making any changes to their regimen and should never stop taking their prescribed medication suddenly.