Schizophrenia: Understanding and Managing the Symptoms

This resource page dives deep into schizophrenia, a mental health condition that affects an individual’s ability to think, feel, and behave clearly. It covers various treatment options, including medication and therapy, and stresses the importance of seeking professional help for those who are experiencing schizophrenia symptoms.

If you or someone you know is experiencing a behavioral health crisis, get help now with crisis intervention.

person talking to therapist

What is Schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia is a chronic and severe mental disorder that affects how a person thinks, feels, and behaves. People with schizophrenia may seem like they have lost touch with reality. Although schizophrenia is not as common as other mental disorders, the symptoms can be very disabling.

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Schizophrenia Signs and Symptoms

Symptoms of schizophrenia usually start between ages 16 and 30. In rare cases, children have schizophrenia too. The symptoms of schizophrenia fall into three categories: positive, negative, and cognitive.

    Positive symptoms:

    “Positive” symptoms are psychotic behaviors not generally seen in healthy people. People with positive symptoms may “lose touch” with some aspects of reality. Symptoms include:

    • Hallucinations
    • Delusions
    • Thought disorders (unusual or dysfunctional ways of thinking)
    • Movement disorders (agitated body movements)

    Negative symptoms:

    “Negative” symptoms are associated with disruptions to normal emotions and behaviors. Symptoms include:

    • “Flat affect” (reduced expression of emotions via facial expression or voice tone)
    • Reduced feelings of pleasure in everyday life
    • Difficulty beginning and sustaining activities
    • Reduced speaking

      Cognitive symptoms:

      For some patients, the cognitive symptoms of schizophrenia are subtle, but for others, they are more severe and patients may notice changes in their memory or other aspects of thinking. Symptoms include:

      • Poor “executive functioning” (the ability to understand information and use it to make decisions)
      • Trouble focusing or paying attention
      • Problems with “working memory” (the ability to use information immediately after learning it)

      Schizophrenia Risk Factors

      There are several factors that contribute to the risk of developing schizophrenia.

      Genes and environment:

      Scientists have long known that schizophrenia sometimes runs in families. However, there are many people who have schizophrenia who don’t have a family member with the disorder and conversely, many people with one or more family members with the disorder who do not develop it themselves.

      Scientists believe that many different genes may increase the risk of schizophrenia, but that no single gene causes the disorder by itself. It is not yet possible to use genetic information to predict who will develop schizophrenia.

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      Scientists also think that interactions between genes and aspects of the individual’s environment are necessary for schizophrenia to develop. Environmental factors may involve:

      • Exposure to viruses
      • Malnutrition before birth
      • Problems during birth
      • Psychosocial factors

      Different brain chemistry and structure:

      Scientists think that an imbalance in the complex, interrelated chemical reactions of the brain involving the neurotransmitters (substances that brain cells use to communicate with each other) dopamine and glutamate, and possibly others, plays a role in schizophrenia.

      Some experts also think problems during brain development before birth may lead to faulty connections. The brain also undergoes major changes during puberty, and these changes could trigger psychotic symptoms in people who are vulnerable due to genetics or brain differences.

      How Can I Help Someone I Know with Schizophrenia?

      Caring for and supporting a loved one with schizophrenia can be hard. It can be difficult to know how to respond to someone who makes strange or clearly false statements. It is important to understand that schizophrenia is a biological illness.

      Here are some things you can do to help your loved one:

      • Get them treatment and encourage them to stay in treatment
      • Remember that their beliefs or hallucinations seem very real to them
      • Tell them that you acknowledge that everyone has the right to see things their own way
      • Be respectful, supportive, and kind without tolerating dangerous or inappropriate behavior
      • Check to see if there are any support groups in your area

        Social Anxiety Disorder

        People with social anxiety disorder (sometimes called “social phobia”) have a marked fear of social or performance situations in which they expect to feel embarrassed, judged, rejected, or fearful of offending others.

        Social anxiety disorder symptoms include:

        1. Feeling highly anxious about being with other people and having a hard time talking to them
        2. Feeling very self-conscious in front of other people and worried about feeling humiliated, embarrassed, or rejected, or fearful of offending others
        3. Being very afraid that other people will judge them
        4. Worrying for days or weeks before an event where other people will be
        5. Staying away from places where there are other people
        6. Having a hard time making friends and keeping friends
        7. Blushing, sweating, or trembling around other people
        8. Feeling nauseous or sick to your stomach when other people are around

        Schizophrenia Research and Statistics

        1. Recovery After an Initial Schizophrenia Episode (RAISE): The NIMH-launched RAISE is a large-scale research initiative that began with two studies examining different aspects of coordinated specialty care (CSC) treatments for people who were experiencing first episode psychosis.
        2. NIMH Schizophrenia Spectrum Disorders Research Program: This program administers funding to scientists doing research into the origins, onset, course, and outcome of schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, and such related conditions as schizotypal and schizoid personality disorders.
        3. Schizophrenia Statistics: This webpage provides information on the best statistics currently available on the prevalence and treatment of schizophrenia in the U.S.
        4. Schizophrenia Clinical Trials at NIMH: Adults: This webpage lists NIMH clinical trials that are currently recruiting adults with schizophrenia.
        5. Schizophrenia Clinical Trials at NIMH: Children: This webpage lists NIMH clinical trials that are currently recruiting children with schizophrenia.

        Schizophrenia Resources