Dr. Roxanne Dryden-Edwards is an adult, child, and adolescent psychiatrist. She is a former Chair of the Committee on Developmental Disabilities for the American Psychiatric Association, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, and Medical Director of the National Center for Children and Families in Bethesda, Maryland.
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.
Hallucinations (for example, hearing things not actually present)
The sense of being controlled by outside forces
A person with schizophrenia may not have any outward appearance of being ill. In other cases, the illness may be more apparent, causing bizarre behaviors. For example, a person with schizophrenia may wear aluminum foil in the belief that it will stop one's thoughts from being broadcasted and protect against malicious waves entering the brain.
People with schizophrenia vary widely in their behavior as they struggle with an illness beyond their control. In active stages, those affected may ramble in illogical sentences or react with uncontrolled anger or violence to a perceived threat. People with schizophrenia may also experience relatively passive phases of the illness in which they seem to lack personality, movement, and emotion (also called a flat affect). People with schizophrenia may alternate in these extremes. Their behavior may or may not be predictable.
In order to better understand schizophrenia, the concept of clusters of symptoms is often used. Thus, people with schizophrenia can experience symptoms that may be grouped under the following categories:
Positive symptoms: hearing voices, suspiciousness, feeling under constant
surveillance, delusions, or making up words without a meaning (neologisms)
Negative (or deficit) symptoms: social withdrawal, difficulty in expressing emotions (in extreme cases called blunted affect), difficulty in taking care of themselves, inability to feel pleasure (These symptoms cause severe impairment and are often mistaken for laziness.)
difficulties attending to and processing of information, in understanding the environment, and in remembering simple tasks
Affective (or mood) symptoms: most notably depression, accounting for a very high rate of attempted suicide in people suffering from schizophrenia
Helpful definitions in understanding schizophrenia include the following:
Psychosis: Psychosis is defined as being out of touch with reality. During this phase, one can experience delusions or prominent hallucinations. People with psychoses are not aware that what they are experiencing or some of the things that they believe are not real. Psychosis is a prominent feature of schizophrenia but is not unique to this illness.
Schizoid: This term is often used to describe a personality disorder characterized by almost complete lack of interest in social relationships and a restricted range of expression of emotions in interpersonal settings, making a person with this disorder appear cold and aloof.
Schizotypal: This term defines a more severe personality disorder characterized by acute discomfort with close relationships as well as disturbances of perception and bizarre behaviors, making people with schizophrenia seem odd and eccentric because of unusual mannerisms.
Hallucinations: A person with schizophrenia may have strong sensations of objects or events that are real only to him or her. These may be in the form of things that they believe strongly that they see, hear, smell, taste, or touch. Hallucinations have no outside source and are sometimes described as "the person's mind playing tricks" on him or her.
Illusion: An illusion is a mistaken perception for which there is an actual external stimulus. For example, a visual illusion might be seeing a shadow and misinterpreting it as a person. The words "illusion" and "hallucination" are sometimes confused with each other.
Delusion: A person with a delusion has a strong belief about something despite evidence that the belief is false. For instance, a person may listen to a radio and believe the radio is giving a coded message about an impending extraterrestrial invasion. All of the other people who listen to the same radio program would hear, for example, a feature story about road repair work taking place in the area.
Symptoms of schizophrenia in children and younger teenagers are less common since this form is not as common as adult-onset schizophrenia. Children with this illness tend to have a more chronic course of symptoms, more cognitive (thinking) problems, more negative symptoms, and more severe social challenges than people with adult-onset schizophrenia.
Reviewed by Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD on 6/13/2012