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When Someone Has Schizophrenia

" In the United States, more than 2 million people have schizophrenia. "

Schizophrenia is a devastating mental illness-the most chronic and disabling of the severe mental disorders. 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 are stigmatized by lack of public understanding about the disease. While newer treatments with fewer side effects have improved the lives of many people with schizophrenia, only one in five recovers. One in 10 commits suicide.

Some Facts About Schizophrenia

*In the United States, more than 2 million people have schizophrenia.

*Schizophrenia costs the United States $32.5 billion annually.

*Worldwide, rates of schizophrenia are about 1% of the population, very similar from country to country.

*People with schizophrenia are far more likely to be victims of violence and crime than to commit violent acts themselves. People with schizophrenia have an increased risk of violent behavior only when untreated or when engaging in substance abuse.

*Many years of family studies indicate that vulnerability to schizophrenia is inherited. However, among individuals with schizophrenia who have an identical twin, and thus share the exact genetic makeup, there is only a 50 percent chance that both twins will be affected with the disease. Scientists conclude that some environmental influence, perhaps occurring during fetal development, accounts for the difference.

*Advances in neuroimaging technology have shown that some people with schizophrenia have abnormalities in brain structure consisting of enlarged ventricles, fluid-filled cavities deep within the brain.

*Research indicates that schizophrenia may be a developmental disorder resulting from impaired migration of neurons in the brain during fetal development.


Treatments for Schizophrenia

A number of new, effective medications for schizophrenia with fewer side effects than older medications have been introduced in the past decade. The newer drugs are very effective in the treatment of psychosis, including hallucinations and delusions, and may also be helpful for treating reduced motivation or blunted emotional expression.

Because of the nature of the disorder, some people with schizophrenia may deny that they need medications and may either refuse to take them or stop taking them because of undesired side effects. Remembering to take medications may be difficult because of the disorganized thinking characteristic of people with schizophrenia. A major goal of research at NIMH is the discovery of new, effective and safe treatments that can be given in longer-acting doses.


Present and Future Research Directions

In addition to the development of new treatments, NIMH research is focusing on the relationships among genetic, behavioral, developmental, social and other factors to identify the cause or causes of schizophrenia. Utilizing increasingly precise imaging techniques, scientists are studying the structure and function of the living brain. New molecular tools and modern statistical analyses are enabling researchers to close in on the particular genes that affect brain development or brain circuitry involved in schizophrenia. Scientists are continuing to investigate possible prenatal factors, including infections, that may affect brain development and contribute to the development of schizophrenia.


For More Information About NIMH

The Office of Communications and Public Liaison carries out educational activities and publishes and distributes research reports, press releases, fact sheets, and publications intended for researchers, health care providers, and the general public. A publications list may be obtained on the web at or by contacting:

Office of Communications and Public Liaison, NIMH

Information Resources and Inquiries Branch

6001 Executive Blvd

Room 8184, MSC 9663

Bethesda, MD 20892-9663

Phone: 301-443-4513

Source: June 2000


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