definition of schizophreniaSchizophrenia is a long-term severe mental health problem that can have a range of symptoms including periods when they cannot tell the difference between what is real and what is imagined. Schizophrenia seriously disturbs the way people think, feel and relate to others.

According to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health about one person in 100 develops schizophrenia. Men and women are affected equally; however, men tend to have their first episode of schizophrenia in their late teens or early 20s. For women, the onset is usually a few years later. In most cases, the symptoms develop gradually. In some cases the onset is rapid.

The symptoms of schizophrenia fall into two categories, positive symptoms and negative symptoms. Positive symptoms (sometimes called psychotic symptoms) refers to behaviours and experiences of people with schizophrenia that people without schizophrenia do not have (e.g., hallucinations, delusions). Negative symptoms refer to traits that are absent or reduced in people with schizophrenia (e.g., social withdrawal, lack of motivation).

Positive symptoms

  • delusions (fixed, false beliefs that are not consistent with the person's culture, and have no basis in fact)
  • hallucinations (people hear, see, taste, smell or feel something that does not actually exist)
  • disorganized thoughts (unconnected thoughts that make it impossible to communicate clearly with other people)
  • disorganized mood (finding it hard to express feelings; feeling inappropriate or intense bursts of emotion; feeling empty of any emotions)
  • disorganized behaviour (cannot complete everyday tasks such as bathing, dressing appropriately and preparing simple meals)
  • changes in sensitivity (more sensitive and aware of other people; or withdrawn and seeming to pay no attention to others).

Negative symptoms

  • slowing of physical activity levels or, more rarely, overactivity
  • reduced motivation, for example, problems finishing tasks or making long-term plans
  • loss of interest in the feelings and lives of others
  • less concern for personal appearance.


It is worth noting at this point that there is no single cause that has been found for schizophrenia, although there is a clear genetic link. Environmental and social factors may also be involved in the development of schizophrenia.

People with schizophrenia may be treated as outpatients or they may be hospitalized. Treatment usually consists of medication and psychosocial interventions. Antipsychotic medications are the main class of drugs used to treat schizophrenia. They relieve symptoms of psychosis and may help to prevent relapse. Other medications may be prescribed to help manage the side-effects of antipsychotics or to treat particular symptoms, such as depression, anxiety or sleep difficulties.

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