Schizophrenia is a chronic, severe, and disabling brain disorder that affects 1% of Americans.

Signs & Symptoms

Positive symptoms

  • People with positive symptoms often "lose touch" with reality
  • Hallucinations are sights, sounds, smells, or sensations a person experiences no one else can. "Voices" are the most common type of hallucination in schizophrenia. The voices may talk to the person about his or her behavior, order the person to do things, or warn the person of danger.
  • Delusions are false beliefs that are not part of the person's culture and do not change. He or she may have paranoid delusions and believe that others are trying to harm him or her, such as by cheating, harassing, poisoning, spying on, or plotting against the individual or the people close to the individual.
  • Thought disorders are unusual or dysfunctional ways of thinking. When a person has trouble organizing his or her thoughts or connecting them logically, he or she may talk in a garbled way that is hard to understand; may stop speaking abruptly in the middle of a thought; or might make up meaningless words, or "neologisms."
  • Movement disorders may appear as agitated, repeated body movements. In the other extreme, a person may become catatonic.

Negative symptoms

  • Disruptions to normal emotions and behaviors
  • "Flat affect" (a person's face does not move or they talk in a monotonous voice)
  • Lack of pleasure in everyday life
  • Lack of ability to begin and sustain planned activities
  • Speaking minimally, even when forced to interact

Cognitive symptoms

  • 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)

Violence and Substance Abuse:

  • Some symptoms are associated with violence, such as delusions/hallucinations.
  • Substance abuse may increase the chance a person will become violent.
  • If a person with schizophrenia becomes violent, the violence is usually directed at family members and tends to take place at home.
  • The risk of violence among people with schizophrenia is small, but people with the illness attempt suicide much more often than others.
  • Some people who abuse drugs show symptoms similar to those of schizophrenia; therefore, people with schizophrenia may be mistaken for people who are affected by drugs.