Schizophrenia often interferes with a person's
ability to think clearly, to distinguish reality from fantasy, to manage emotions, make decisions, and relate to others. The first signs of schizophrenia typically emerge in the teenage years or
early twenties, often later for females. Most people with schizophrenia contend with the illness chronically or episodically throughout their lives, and are often stigmatized by lack of public
understanding about the disease. Schizophrenia is not caused by bad parenting or personal weakness. A person with schizophrenia does not have a "split personality," and almost all people with
schizophrenia are not dangerous or violent towards others while they are receiving treatment. The World Health Organization has identified schizophrenia as one of the ten most debilitating
diseases affecting human beings.
The symptoms of schizophrenia are generally divided
into three categories -- Positive, Negative, and Cognitive:
- Positive Symptoms, or "psychotic" symptoms, include delusions and
hallucinations because the patient has lost touch with reality in certain important ways. "Positive" refers to having overt symptoms that should not be there. Delusions cause individuals to believe
that people are reading their thoughts or plotting against them, that others are secretly monitoring and threatening them, or that they can control other people's minds. Hallucinations cause people
to hear or see things that are not present.
- Negative Symptoms include emotional flatness or lack of expression, an
inability to start and follow through with activities, speech that is brief and devoid of content, and a lack of pleasure or interest in life. "Negative" does not refer to a person's attitude but to
a lack of certain characteristics that should be there.
- Cognitive Symptoms pertain to thinking processes. For example, people may
have difficulty with prioritizing tasks, certain kinds of memory functions, and organizing their thoughts. A common problem associated with schizophrenia is the lack of insight into the
condition itself. This is not a willful denial but rather a part of the mental illness itself. Such a lack of understanding, of course, poses many challenges for loved ones seeking better care for
the person with schizophrenia.