Mental Illness: Facts about Schizophrenia

Updated August 5, 2020 | Infoplease Staff

Facts about Schizophrenia

Source: National Institute of Mental Health

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Schizophrenia is a chronic, severe, and disabling brain disorder that affects more than 2 million adult Americans. People with this disorder sometimes hear voices others don't hear, believe that others are broadcasting their thoughts to the world, or become convinced that others are plotting to harm them. People with schizophrenia may not make sense when they talk, may sit for hours without moving or talking much, or may seem perfectly fine until they talk about what they are really thinking. Because many people with schizophrenia have difficulty holding a job or caring for themselves, the burden on their families and society is significant.

Available treatments can relieve many of the disorder's symptoms, but most people who have schizophrenia must cope with some residual symptoms as long as they live. Nevertheless, this is a time of hope for people with schizophrenia and their families. Many people with the disorder now lead rewarding and meaningful lives in their communities. Researchers are developing more effective medications and using new research tools to understand the causes of schizophrenia and to find ways to prevent and treat it.

  • In men, schizophrenia usually appears in the late teens or early twenties. The disorder usually shows up when women are in their twenties to early thirties.
  • Schizophrenia affects men and women with equal frequency.
  • Schizophrenia occurs in 1 percent of the general population, but is seen in 10 percent of people with a first-degree relative (a parent, brother, or sister) with the disorder. The identical twin of a person with the disorder is most at risk, with a 40 to 65 percent chance of developing the disease.
  • Like many other illnesses, schizophrenia is believed to result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors.
  • People with schizophrenia are addicted to nicotine at three times the rate of the general population (75-90 percent vs. 25-30 percent). The reasons for this are unclear.
  • Schizophrenia costs the nation $32.5 billion annually according to the most recently available data.


Because the causes of schizophrenia are still unknown, current treatments focus on eliminating the symptoms of the disease. Antipsychotic medications have been available since the mid-1950s. They effectively alleviate the positive symptoms of schizophrenia but sometimes cause side effects such as tremors and restlessness. Newer medications developed in the 1990s, called atypical antipsychotics, have been found to cause fewer side effects. No one can tell beforehand exactly how medication will affect a particular individual, and sometimes several medications must be tried before the right one is found.

Numerous studies have found that psychosocial treatments can help patients who are already stabilized on antipsychotic medications deal with certain aspects of schizophrenia, such as difficulty with communications, motivation, self-care, work and relationships. Learning and using coping mechanisms to address these problems allows people with schizophrenia to attend school, work, and socialize.

The outlook for people with schizophrenia has improved over the last 30 years or so. Although there is still no cure, effective treaments have been developed, and many people with schizophrenia improve enough to lead independent, satisfying lives.

Mental illness at a glance:

Introduction | Depression | Bipolar Illness | Suicide | Schizophrenia | Anxiety Disorders | Panic Disorder | Obsessive–Compulsive Disorder | Post–Traumatic Stress Disorder | Social Phobia | Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

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