Schizophrenia, which affects more than one million Americans each year, is a severe, chronic brain disorder in which an individual is disabled by abnormal perceptions of reality that delude normal thinking. The term schizophrenia (schizo = to split, phrene = mind), coined by Swiss psychiatrist Eugene Bleuler, describes the ‘split’ that occurs between the affected individual’s cognitive thought and associations with reality. Because schizophrenia is a group of mental disorders that are categorized by diverse symptomatology, it is separately classified under “Schizophrenia Spectrum and Other Psychotic Disorders” in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), published by the American Psychiatric Association (APA). It is characterized by symptoms that fall into two categories: 1) positive symptoms, such as distortions in thoughts (delusions), perception (hallucinations) and language and thinking and 2) negative symptoms, such as flattened emotional responses and decreased goal-directed behavior, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Individuals with this psychiatric disorder tend to withdraw into an “inner world” surrounded by their own delusions manifested from psychosis. Typically, the affected individual will hear voices that they believe are telling them instructions or controlling their thoughts. They may also believe that others are reading their minds or scheming to harm them.
People with schizophrenia display different levels of severity at periods of time; some may lead productive lives every day while others become extremely dependent and require long-term intensive care. The onset of the illness might occur suddenly or symptoms may grow gradually over time. Although there is no known cause for schizophrenia, many factors play a role, including genetics (80% of cases are inherited), substance abuse during fetal development, environmental influence and social and psychological development. Schizophrenia is a chronic illness that requires lifelong treatment including antipsychotic medication and psychosocial therapy. Because schizophrenics have trouble thinking clearly or having a lucid memory, proper treatment may be difficult to mandate. The best chance of successful treatment involves improving lifestyle and environment, family and medical support and persistence.