What is schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia is one of the most complex of all mental health disorders. It is a severe, chronic, and disabling disturbance of the brain that causes distorted thinking, strange feelings, and unusual behavior and use of language and words.

What causes schizophrenia?

There is no known single cause responsible for schizophrenia. It is believed that a chemical imbalance in the brain is an inherited factor which is necessary for schizophrenia to develop. However, it is likely that many factors—genetic, behavioral, and environmental—play a role in the development of this condition.

Schizophrenia is considered to be multifactorially inherited. Multifactorial inheritance means that "many factors" are involved. The factors are usually both genetic and environmental, where a combination of genes from both parents, in addition to unknown environmental factors, produce the trait or condition. Often, one gender (either males or females) is affected more frequently than the other in multifactorial traits. There appears to be a different threshold of expression, which means that one gender is more likely to show the problem, over the other gender. Slightly more males develop schizophrenia in childhood; however, by adolescence, schizophrenia affects males and females equally.

Who is affected by schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia is uncommon in children under the age of 12 and hard to identify in the early phases. A sudden onset of the psychotic symptoms of schizophrenia frequently occurs in middle to late adolescence. Statistics indicate that schizophrenia affects approximately 2.7 million Americans. A child born into a family with one or more family members affected by schizophrenia has a greater chance of developing schizophrenia than a child born into a family with no history of schizophrenia.

After a person has been diagnosed with schizophrenia in a family, the chance for a sibling to also be diagnosed with schizophrenia is 7 to 8 percent. If a parent has schizophrenia, the chance for a child to have the disorder is 10 percent. Risks increase with multiple affected family members.

What are the symptoms of schizophrenia?

In children with schizophrenia, behavior changes may occur slowly, over time, or have a sudden onset. The child may gradually become more shy and withdrawn. They may begin to talk about bizarre ideas or fears and begin to cling more to parents. One of the most disturbing and puzzling characteristics of schizophrenia is the sudden onset of its psychotic symptoms. "Psychotic" refers to ideas, perceptions, or feelings that are grossly distorted from reality. The following are the most common symptoms of schizophrenia. However, each child may experience symptoms differently.

Early warning signs of schizophrenia in children may include:

  • Distorted perception of reality (difficulty telling dreams from reality)

  • Confused thinking (i.e., confusing television with reality)

  • Detailed and bizarre thoughts and ideas

  • Suspiciousness and/or paranoia (fearfulness that someone, or something, is going to harm them)

  • Hallucinations (seeing, hearing, or feeling things that are not real such as hearing voices telling them to do something)

  • Delusions (ideas that seem real but are not based in reality)

  • Extreme moodiness

  • Severe anxiety and/or fearfulness

  • Flat affect (lack of emotional expression when speaking)

  • Difficulty in performing schoolwork

  • Social withdrawal (severe problems in making and keeping friends)

  • Disorganized or catatonic behavior (suddenly becoming agitated and confused, or sitting and staring, as if immobilized)

  • Odd behaviors (i.e., an older child may regress significantly and begin acting like a younger child)

The symptoms of schizophrenia are often classified as positive (symptoms including delusions, hallucinations, and bizarre behavior), negative (symptoms including flat affect, withdrawal, and emotional unresponsiveness), disorganized speech (including speech that is incomprehensible), and disorganized or catatonic behavior (including marked mood swings, sudden aggression, or confusion, followed by sudden motionlessness and staring). The symptoms of schizophrenia in children are similar to adults, however, children, more often (in 80 percent of diagnosed cases), experience auditory hallucinations and typically do not experience delusions or formal thought disorders until midadolescence or older. The symptoms of

Reference: Mental Health and Behavior section on Better Medicine


What to Ask Your Doctor About Schizophrenia

Be prepared to ask the right questions at your next doctor’s appointment for schizophrenia.

Did You Know?

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Years of drug abuse will cause schizophrenia.