Schizophrenia is a disturbance of the brain's functioning. It can seriously disturb the way people think, feel and relate
to others. 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.With women, the onset is usually a few years later. In most
cases, the illness can start so gradually that people will begin to have symptoms, but they and their families may not be
aware of the illness for a long time. In some cases, however, the onset is rapid.
Schizophrenia has three phases -- prodromal (or beginning), active and residual. These phases tend to happen in order and
appear in cycles throughout the course of the illness. During a lifetime, people with schizophrenia may become actively ill
once or twice, or have many more episodes.
In the prodromal phase, people may begin to lose interest in their usual activities and to withdraw from friends and family
members. They may become easily confused, have trouble concentrating, and feel listless and apathetic, preferring to spend
most of their days alone. They may also become intensely preoccupied with religion or philosophy. This phase can last weeks
During schizophrenia's active phase, people may have delusions, hallucinations, marked distortions in thinking and disturbances
in behaviour and feelings. This phase is often the most frightening to the person with schizophrenia, and to others.
After an active phase, people may be listless, have trouble concentrating and be withdrawn. The symptoms in this phase are
similar to those outlined under the prodromal phase.
The symptoms of schizophrenia fall into two categories -- "positive" and "negative" symptoms. Positive symptoms (sometimes
called psychotic symptoms) refer to symptoms that appear; negative symptoms refer to elements that are taken away from a person.
Positive symptoms include:
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 thought (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 include:
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.
No single cause has been found for schizophrenia, although there is a clear genetic link. Research has given us clues in the
search for better ways to diagnose and treat the illness.
People with schizophrenia may be treated as outpatients or they may be hospitalized. Treatment usually consists of medication
and psychosocial interventions. Throughout treatment, families can receive support and education during sessions with the
treatment team. Antipsychotic medications are the main class of drugs used to treat schizophrenia. They relieve symptoms of
psychosis and may help to prevent a 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.
Schizophrenia usually develops in young people during the years when they would normally develop the skills needed for independent
living. A variety of psychosocial interventions such as case management, counselling, and housing programs are often used
to help develop these skills.
Family counselling can help people with schizophrenia and their families understand and manage problems associated with the
It is important to try to avoid relapses by following the prescribed treatment.
It is impossible to predict how well a person will recover after the onset of the disorder. Some will recover almost totally.
Some people will need medication and support for the rest of their lives.
Adapted from Schizophrenia: A Guide for People with Schizophrenia and their Families © 1999, Centre for Addiction and Mental Health