Schizophrenia, which affects 1 percent of the world's population, is a severe, chronic, and generally disabling brain disease. While the term schizophrenia literally means "split mind", it should not be confused with a "split", or multiple, personality. It is more accurately described as a psychosis -- a type of illness that causes severe mental disturbances that disrupt normal thoughts, speech, and behavior. Schizophrenia is believed to be due to a combination of genetic and environmental factors.
The symptoms of schizophrenia fall into three main categories:
- Positive symptoms, which are unusual thoughts or perceptions that include hallucinations (disturbances of sensory perception), delusions (false beliefs) and thought disorder.
- Negative symptoms, which represent a loss or a decrease in the ability to initiate plans, speak, express emotion, or find pleasure in everyday life. These symptoms are harder to recognize as part of the disorder and can be mistaken for laziness or depression.
- Cognitive symptoms (or cognitive deficits), which are problems with attention, certain types of memory, and the executive functions that allow us to plan and organize. Cognitive deficits can also be difficult to recognize as part of the disorder but are the most disabling in terms of leading a normal life.
Treatment is aimed at reducing symptoms and preventing psychotic relapses and is believed to be most effective when begun early in the course of the illness. Schizophrenia is usually treated with antipsychotic medication. Once acute symptoms have lessened, a combination of medicine and psychosocial/rehabilitation interventions can be beneficial. As a chronic condition, disease management is life-long process.
Source: NARSAD, The Brain and Behavior Research Fund. www.narsad.org