Signs and Symptoms
Schizophrenia is a mental illness that usually strikes in late adolescence or early adulthood, but can strike at any time in life. The signs and symptoms vary from individuals. Two different people who both carry a diagnosis of schizophrenia can have different symptoms from each other, but all people with the disorder show one or more of these following symptoms:
In addition to these above symptoms, people with schizophrenia suffer a decline in their level of functioning; for instance, they may not be able to work at a job that requires the same level of skill or concentration than the jobs they held before they became ill, or they may lose all ability to withstand the pressures of the working world. They may show a decline in their ability to attend to household chores or all the demands of raising their children, and/or they may not be able to have a full social life anymore.
Sometimes schizophrenia is a chronic condition, and the individual afflicted is constantly experiencing hallucinations or other symptoms of the disorder. Other people have periods of time when they are relatively symptom-free but have periods of more acute psychosis. Every individual is different, and every person with schizophrenia experiences the disease in a different way.
A brief history of schizophrenia
Mental illness has been recognized for thousands of years. At one point, all people who were considered "abnormal," whether due to mental illness, mental retardation, or physical deformities, were largely treated the same. Early theories supposed that mental disorders were caused by evil possession of the body, and the appropriate treatment was then exorcising these demons, through various means, ranging from innocuous treatments, such as exposing the patient to certain types of music, to dangerous and sometimes deadly means, such as releasing the evil spirits by drilling holes in the patient's skull.
One of the first to classify the mental disorders into different categories was the German physician, Emil Kraepelin. He used the term "dementia praecox" for individuals who had symptoms that we now associate with schizophrenia. The classifications for mental disorders continue to be revised. The most recent diagnostic classification system that is most commonly used in the United States is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders - Fourth Edition (DSM-IV).
The Swiss psychiatrist, Eugen Bleuler, coined the term, "schizophrenia" in 1911. This word comes from the Greek roots schizo (split) and phrene (mind) to describe the fragmented thinking of people with the disorder. His term was not meant to convey the idea of split or multiple personality, a common misunderstanding by the public at large. Since Bleuler's time, the definition of schizophrenia has continued to change, as scientists attempt to more accurately delineate the different types of mental diseases. Without knowing the exact causes of these diseases, scientists can only base their classifications on the observation that some symptoms tend to occur together.
Both Bleuler and Kraepelin subdivided schizophrenia into categories, based on prominent symptoms and prognoses. Over the years, those working in this field have continued to attempt to classify types of schizophrenias. Five types were delineated in the DSM-III: disorganized, catatonic, paranoid, residual, and undifferentiated. The first three categories were originally proposed by Kraepelin. These classifications, while still employed in DSM-IV, have not shown to be helpful in predicting outcome of the disorder, and the types are not reliably diagnosed. Many researchers are using other systems to classify types of the disorder, based on the preponderance of "positive" vs "negative" symptoms (see symptoms of schizophrenia above), the progression of the disorder in terms of type and severity of symptoms over time, and the co-occurrence of other mental disorders and syndromes. It is hoped that differentiating groups of schizophrenics based on clinical symptoms will help to determine different etiologies or causes of the disorder. Just as Bleuler thought in terms of the "group of schizophrenias," many scientists today believe there might be different types of schizophrenia, possibly each type comprising its own disease with its own cause and treatment.
What treatments are currently available?
Just as different people with schizophrenia can experience different symptoms, the effective treatment for each person is different. Each individual's treatment program can include one or more of the following ways:
What help is available for the family and caretakers of individuals with schizophrenia?
There are a number of national organizations that provide information and support to individuals with schizophrenia and their loved ones. On the internet www.schizophrenia.com contains a comprehensive information source and referral service. You should also check with local agencies in addition to these national organizations: