A disease of the mind, in which the person cannot distinguish between what is real and what is not. They experience psychotic symptoms, like hearing voices (hallucinations), or bizarre paranoias or delusions (see Psychosis). Some simply become apathetic and withdrawn, or rarely motionless (catatonic). Schizophrenia has been considered the greatest affliction of all, because our mind is what truly separates us from all other animal species.
A brilliant psychiatric nurse once told me that she would ask psychotic patients, after their condition had been controlled by medication, to describe what it felt like. The word they most often used was “pain.” So if you ever see anyone in the midst of mental crisis, don’t just think that they’re “acting crazy.” Think that they’re suffering in pain.
We don’t really know what happens in the brain. The drugs we use to control psychosis affect various chemicals found in nerve endings, but no clear theory has been convincing. So treatment involves a lot of trial and error. Schizophrenia can also become mixed with depression, which is termed “Schizoaffective Disorder.”
Schizophrenia usually appears between 15 and 30 years old; nobody knows what causes it. There’s clearly something genetic (hereditary), but unidentified environmental factors also play a role. Among identical twins, who have the exact same genes, only 50% of the siblings develops the condition. Various infections occurring during late pregnancy or time of birth may be involved.
Bottom Line — about 1 in 100 people suffer from schizophrenia, and nobody knows why. It has nothing to do with intelligence; Nobel Prize winner John Nash had it (see the book & movie A Beautiful Mind). Throughout history, the disease has carried a terrible social stigma. Only recently have advocacy groups formed to support people with mental illness.