Schizophrenia What Is

Schizophrenia is a serious mental illness that affects 1 percent of the U.S. adult population, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (2009). Characterized by psychosis and psychotic behavior, schizophrenia is one of the most misunderstood types of mental illness: Many people rely on distorted media representations of this disorder.

Psychosis: Loss of Reality

Before talking about schizophrenia, defining psychosis is helpful. Psychosis is an impaired sense of reality that makes it difficult to distinguish between real and unreal events. Psychosis may also cause:

  • Confusion
  • Delusions
  • Hallucinations
  • Inarticulate, disorganized thoughts.

How psychosis presents in an individual is known as psychotic behavior. For instance, if a schizophrenic patient’s psychosis causes disorganized thoughts, resulting psychotic behavior may include inarticulate speech and difficulty focusing on ideas.

Defining Schizophrenia

According to the National Mental Health Information Center (2003), schizophrenia is a state of social dysfunction and psychotic symptoms that lasts for at least six months. Symptoms must not be due to depression or other mental illness, nor can they be traced to illicit drug use or medication side effects.

About Schizophrenia Incidence Rates

While incidence rates for other varieties of mental illness vary from country to country, rates of schizophrenia are remarkably stable across the globe. Schizophrenia affects 1 percent of the world’s population, as reported by the National Library of Medicine (2010). Ethnicity and culture don’t affect an individual’s risk of schizophrenia.

Cases of schizophrenia also appear to be equal in men and women, although women tend to experience milder schizophrenia symptoms and develop the disease later in life. Schizophrenia symptoms in children are unusual.

Socioeconomics and Schizophrenia Symptoms

Higher rates of schizophrenia are associated with low-income groups, most often in urban centers. This connection between schizophrenia symptoms and low socioeconomic status may be explained by the social effects of psychotic behavior, which often include unemployment, social isolation and poverty. Psychotic behavior often causes severe social dysfunction, perhaps explaining why schizophrenia is more common in single people, as compared to married individuals.

About Schizophrenia and Other Mental Illness

Although psychosis and psychotic behavior are hallmark schizophrenia symptoms, psychosis doesn’t always indicate schizophrenia. Other mental illnesses produce psychotic behavior. Severe mood disorders, such as depression or bipolar disorder, may produce hallucinations and other symptoms of psychosis.

Psychotic behaviors stemming from a different mental illness won’t necessarily respond to schizophrenia medications. Since each mental illness has its own treatment, it’s important to be able to distinguish between schizophrenia symptoms and other conditions, and treat each one appropriately.


Fauci, A., Braunwald, E., Isselbacher, K., Wilson, J., Martin, J., Kasper, D. …