Schizophrenia is a devastating brain disorder-the most chronic and disabling of the severe mental illnesses. The first signs of schizophrenia, which typically emerge in young people in their teens or twenties, are confusing and often shocking to families and friends. Hallucinations, delusions, disordered thinking, unusual speech or behavior, and social withdrawal impair the ability to interact with others. Most people with schizophrenia suffer chronically or episodically throughout their lives, losing opportunities for careers and relationships. They often are stigmatized by lack of public understanding about the disease. However, several new antipsychotic medications developed within the last decade, which have fewer side effects than the older medications, in combination with psychosocial interventions have improved the outlook for many people with schizophrenia.
Some Facts About Schizophrenia
News and entertainment media tend to link mental illnesses including schizophrenia to criminal violence. Most people with schizophrenia, however, are not violent toward others but are withdrawn and prefer to be left alone. Drug or alcohol abuse raises the risk of violence in people with schizophrenia, particularly if the illness is untreated, but also in people who have no mental illness.
Treatments for Schizophrenia
Because schizophrenia sometimes impairs thinking and problem solving, some people may not recognize they are ill and may refuse treatment. Others may stop treatment because of medication side effects, because they feel their medication is no longer working, or because of forgetfulness or disorganized thinking. People with schizophrenia who stop taking prescribed medication are at high risk for a relapse of illness. A good doctor-patient relationship may help people with schizophrenia continue to take medications as prescribed. Developing safer and more effective medications, as well as identifying strategies to enhance the acceptability of currently available treatments, are important NIMH (National Institute of Mental Health) priorities.
Present and Future Research Directions
Last Editorial Review: 1/18/2005
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