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  • What Is Schizophrenia? | Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, & Treatment

    Published on February 1, 2024
    Woman Suffering From Schizophrenia-What Is Schizophrenia? | Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, & Treatment

    Schizophrenia is an uncommon but serious mental illness that occurs in less than 1% of US adults, usually developing after a person’s late teens through their twenties. 

    As a psychotic disorder, schizophrenia can produce startling symptoms, including delusions, paranoia, hallucinations, and cognitive issues, that can cause a person to lose touch with reality.

    Unfortunately, the effects of schizophrenia can make it hard for those who experience it to work, attend classes, maintain relationships, and take care of themselves. 

    However, effective long-term mental health treatment options are available to help those who suffer from schizophrenia manage their condition and, in many cases, fully recover from it.

    Causes Of Schizophrenia

    There is no known single cause for schizophrenia, with researchers believing that a variety of different triggers and risk factors can increase a person’s chance of developing the condition. These are thought to include genetic, developmental, and environmental factors such as:

    • genetics, evidenced by a family history of schizophrenia and other serious mental health conditions
    • certain aspects of brain structure and neurotransmitter functioning
    • pregnancy and birth complications
    • periods of high stress, including traumatic experiences
    • drug abuse, especially cannabis, cocaine, LSD, and amphetamines/methamphetamine

    Symptoms Of Schizophrenia

    The primary symptom of schizophrenia is psychosis, a condition that occurs when a person becomes disconnected from the reality around them.

    While schizophrenia can sometimes develop very suddenly, often following a traumatic or highly stressful experience, its symptoms will more often develop gradually over time. 

    This process, known as the prodromal phase, can be a distressing progression, both for those developing the condition and for their loved ones and others around them.

    Common symptoms associated with the active phase of schizophrenia include:

    • hallucinations
    • delusions
    • disorganized thinking
    • slow movement
    • low motivation, enthusiasm, and ability to make decisions
    • loss of interest in social activities
    • sleeping too much or too little
    • lapses in personal hygiene and self-care
    • change in body language, expressions, and avoiding eye contact
    • unusual or absent emotional responses
    • suicidal thoughts or actions

    Diagnosis Of Schizophrenia

    When a person is experiencing symptoms of psychosis or other warning signs that might point to schizophrenia or some other mental health disorder, they should be formally evaluated by a mental health professional. 

    Professionals may use certain diagnostic criteria from the DSM-5 and other resources to guide their diagnosis and to help build a personalized treatment program.

    Diagnostic criteria for schizophrenia includes:

    • delusions, holding to nonsensical or false beliefs even when presented with alternate information
    • hallucinations, seeing or hearing things that aren’t there, often hearing voices that are critical and abusive
    • disorganized speech, being unable to convey ideas clearly, often rambling or changing the focus one’s sentences partway through, or making up new nonsense words or phases
    • grossly disorganized or catatonic behavior, usually repetitive behavior that gets in the way of purposeful goals, or a lack of movement towards purposeful goals or directions
    • negative symptoms, which refers to a lack of emotional expression, lack of motivation, lack of interest in the world, and disengagement from relationships

    Two or more of these symptoms of schizophrenia must continue for at least six months for a diagnosis to be made, and they must be severe enough as to interfere with one’s work, relationships, or self-care.

    These symptoms must also not have been caused by other disorders including schizoaffective disorder, bipolar disorder with psychotic features, the physiological effects of substance abuse, or any other medical disorder.

    Schizophrenia Treatment

    Unfortunately, those who do experience schizophrenia symptoms and do not receive effective care are at a much higher risk of incarceration, homelessness, drug/alcohol abuse and addiction, victimization, chronic injury or illness, and premature death. 

    However, a variety of effective treatment options are available to treat schizophrenia and to help those who experience it live a more self-sufficient and positive lifestyle, with as many as 1/3 recovering entirely.

    Schizophrenia treatment options generally include:


    Antipsychotic medications are used to relieve psychotic symptoms, though certain side effects or other medical risks are known to occur.

    These medications are divided into typical antipsychotics like chlorpromazine, fluphenazine, and haloperidol, which may cause muscle stiffness and movement problems, and atypical antipsychotics like aripiprazole and clozapine which are known for increasing one’s risk of weight gain and diabetes.


    Several different forms of therapy and counseling may be used to help those experiencing schizophrenia symptoms, including:

    • cognitive behavioral therapy, which focuses on changing negative thoughts and feelings and building positive coping strategies
    • cognitive enhancement therapy, which aims to benefit one’s cognitive symptoms and mental confidence
    • supportive psychotherapy, which is focused on helping individuals cope with their present experiences

    Other Treatments

    Healthcare providers may also recommend electroconvulsive therapy, support groups, and a variety of other supportive services to help patients avoid new psychotic episodes and improve one’s long-term safety, security, and self-sufficiency.

    Dual diagnosis care may also be provided in situations where a person has also developed a substance use disorder due to self-medication.

    If you or a loved one struggle with drug or alcohol abuse, as well as schizophrenia or other serious mental health problems, please consider contacting Ark Behavioral Health today. 

    Our trained healthcare professionals can help develop a comprehensive treatment plan to help you build a lasting recovery and a more positive life moving forward.

    Written by Ark Behavioral Health Editorial Team
    ©2024 Ark National Holdings, LLC. | All Rights Reserved.
    This page does not provide medical advice.
    Article Sources

    Johns Hopkins Medicine - Schizophrenia
    National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) - Schizophrenia
    National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) - Schizophrenia

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