What Is a Schizophrenic Person?

Last Editorial Review: 8/29/2017

Ask the experts

I hear the term "schizophrenia" in movies and TV shows, but I don't know exactly what it is. What is schizonphrenia and what are common signs and symptoms?

Doctor's response

Sometimes colloquially but inaccurately referred to as split personality disorder, schizophrenia is a chronic, severe, debilitating mental illness. It affects about 1% of the population, corresponding to more than 2 million people in the United States alone. Other statistics about schizophrenia include that it affects men about one and a half times more commonly than women. The onset of schizophrenia tends to be from 18-25 years of age for men; the age of onset for women peaks initially from 25-30 years of age and again at about 40 years of age. People who develop this mental illness after the age of 40 years are considered to have late-onset schizophrenia.

Schizophrenia is one of the psychotic mental disorders and is characterized by symptoms of thought, behavior, and social problems. The thought problems associated with schizophrenia are described as psychosis, in that the person's thinking is completely out of touch with reality at times. For example, the sufferer may hear voices, smell odors, or see people that are in no way present or feel like bugs are crawling on their skin when there are none. The individual with this thought disorder may also have disorganized speech, disorganized behavior, physically rigid or lax behavior (catatonia), significantly decreased behaviors or feelings, as well as delusions, which are defined as ideas that have no basis in reality (for example, the individual might experience paranoia, in that he or she thinks others are plotting against them when they are not; a false belief of superiority, that thoughts are not one's own or that ordinary events have a special and personal meeting). While compulsive behaviors and obsessional thinking are not included as part of the diagnosis of schizophrenia, these symptoms occur in many people with this disorder.

Given that an individual can have various predominant symptoms of schizophrenia at different times as well as at the same time, the most recent Diagnostic Manual for Mental Disorders has done away with what used to be described as five types of schizophrenia.

"Schizophrenia in adults: Clinical manifestations, course, assessment, and diagnosis"