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One of the least common and most misunderstood of all mental illnesses is schizophrenia. Schizophrenia is a mental disorder characterized by disturbed thinking, emotional barriers, and a partial break with reality. It affects less than one percent of the population in the US. Onset often occurs during early adulthood. Symptoms may be gradual or a person may experience a more acute experience of psychosis. It is important to know that schizophrenia is treatable and most people with schizophrenia live full lives.


  • People with the disorder often exhibit many of the following symptoms:
  • A distorted sense of reality and changing perceptions of people, actions, or the world in general
  • Delusions which are beliefs or convictions that are seemingly untrue
  • Hallucinations which are sensory perceptions including seeing, hearing, feeling, tasting, or smelling things that are not present
  • Numbed emotions or emotions that don’t seem to fit a situation
  • Isolating and a withdrawal from other people
  • Disordered thinking and an inability to concentrate, to make connections, or to speak coherently
  • Taking longer for process information
  • Loss of drive or motivation to work toward goals

Some people with these symptoms can function fairly well without treatment, others may need medication to effectively manage symptoms.

People with schizophrenia are no more violent than other people. On the contrary, their disease often makes them timid, withdrawn, and less violent.


The exact cause of schizophrenia is unknown; it is believed there is no single cause. Some of the suspected causes are physical in nature, such as chemical imbalances, birth defects, a virus-like infection, and heredity. Schizophrenia, like other mental illnesses, is not caused by immorality or a weak will. It cannot be “willed away’ or cured by “a good rest” or by being told to “get a hold of yourself.”


Schizophrenia can be treated. Many of those who receive treatment are able to live full and productive lives. Treatment takes three forms:

  • Medication to manage symptoms;
  • Psychotherapy to help a person stay engaged in life, reestablish relationships, and develop a network of support; and
  • Family and community support programs that include 24-hour crisis intervention, supported employment and housing, and training for families to help them provide the necessary support.

Some people with schizophrenia respond immediately to treatment. For others it may take time. A key factor is a person’s ability to stay with a treatment plan. When supported by adequate and readily available community-based services that help a person stay with their treatment, individuals often live full lives.

What Else to Do

Learn to recognize the symptoms of schizophrenia. Early and prompt treatment is more effective, costs less, and helps prevent relapses. People with schizophrenia or any mental illness also face the stigma society attaches to their illnesses.

This stigma causes discrimination against people with a mental illness in employment, housing, health care, and the ability to buy health insurance. By learning more about mental illness and the effectiveness of treatment, this discrimination can end, removing the stigma that acts as a barrier to successful treatment.

This information was developed by the Missouri Department of Mental Health, Division of Comprehensive Psychiatric Services, and modified for this use by the MU Counseling Center