Schizophrenia is a complex mental illness that affects how a person thinks, feels, behaves and relates to others. The illness occurs in both men and women, but it is slightly more common in men.
The first episode typically occurs in the late teens to early twenties—usually earlier for men than for women. People can also develop the illness later in life. As many as one person out of 100 may experience schizophrenia.
Schizophrenia includes “positive” and “negative” symptoms of psychosis, as well as cognitive symptoms.
It is not known for certain what causes schizophrenia, but like most other mental health problems, researchers believe that a combination of biological and environmental factors contribute to its development. Research has shown that:
Exactly how these risk factors interact to cause schizophrenia is not yet fully understood.
To arrive at a diagnosis, a physician or psychologist asks structured questions about how the person is thinking and behaving (an assessment). The clinician may also gather information from family members or others who are familiar with the person’s history.
A diagnosis of schizophrenia is based on:
Research has shown that the earlier a person can get a correct diagnosis and treatment for schizophrenia, the better the long-term outcome.
Other forms of treatment for schizophrenia include peer support, medical care, physical activity, diet and complementary approaches.
People with schizophrenia may need to be admitted to hospital at times—for example, if a person is aggressive or suicidal or is not looking after their own basic needs. Patients may be admitted voluntarily or, in certain risk situations, involuntarily. A typical hospital stay may last between a few days and several weeks. During this time, goals and plans for treatment and recovery will be identified.
When the person returns home, intensive and community supports may be available, if needed. These can help the person to make the transition back to the community and provide ongoing support.
The way we think of schizophrenia has changed over time. Where once it was viewed as a chronic and deteriorating condition requiring lifelong care, now recovery is considered to be a realistic possibility. Recovery is seen as a process of gaining control over one’s life and finding meaning, rather than as the total absence of symptoms.
Adapted from: Schizophrenia: An Information Guide © 2017 Centre for Addiction and Mental Health
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