What is Schizophrenia? – THE DETAILS

Schizophrenia is often portrayed in the media (TV, movies, the web) as a violent person who looks “different” and doesn’t fit in with the rest of society. These images are false and offensive.

Occasionally, the illness is depicted more accurately, but even then it’s usually pretty simple—hallucinations or delusions. The actual disorder is much more complicated than that, and has some positives associated with it (creativity, for example) as well.

“Always remember that you are a person first and foremost. A mental health label does not define you. You are not ‘depression’ or ‘schizophrenia’ or ‘bipolar.’ You are a person. A person with cancer does not call himself or herself ‘cancer,’ so why should you limit yourself to a label?”
-David Kime, artist, writer, floral designer, in recovery from bipolar disorder since age 15
(from the Illness Management and Recovery workbook)

If you or a loved one has schizophrenia* it might be helpful to learn about the range of details that can be associated with this illness. Below is a summary.

  • sensitivity (physical and emotional)–can be a positive or a negative
  • filtering problems–good at noticing things, good at details, easily distracted, easily overstimulated in crowded places
  • creativity–many people with schizophrenia are very artistic
  • often skilled at accepting others for who they are
  • can be easy to get along with, sometimes to the point of lack of assertiveness
  • a thought disorder–feeling compelled to examine and interpret many things others see as neutral or without meaning; having many thoughts go on in one’s head at once; being easily confused when one has complicated input, such as conversations; problems combining senses like watching and listening at the same time; thoughts getting jumbled up; thought-blocking, where thoughts get “stuck” in one’s mind
  • hallucinations–hearing/seeing things (also feeling, smelling, tasting things); sense of smell etc. being stronger (smells are stronger, colors are brighter); things looking psychedelic or deformed, voices sounding unusual; sometimes, feeling pain or heat/cold is less strong than in others; distortions of the body (feeling like a zombie, feeling like one’s body is changing size, etc)
  • delusions–false ideas that seem very real to the person, but not to others; paranoia is a kind of delusion where a person thinks they are being watched, persecuted, attacked, laughed at, recorded, etc.; other examples of delusions are believing that one is an important person to the government, the radio is sending messages directly to the person, the person believes that she/he is 900 years old, that he/she is Jesus
  • easily overwhelmed by stress–stress can trigger symptoms, people with schizophrenia are often more easily stressed and more affected by stress
  • emotions–trouble expressing your emotions on your face, being strongly bothered by conflict, emotions being less strong than they used to be, depression, inappropriate emotions, trouble interpreting what others’ emotions are
  • trouble getting motivated and getting things started
  • trouble making decisions
  • disorganized behavior–doing things that seem pointless to others and get nothing accomplished, that seem important to you (moving everything from one room to another for no reason)
  • catatonic behavior–sitting in one place, not moving, for very long periods of time, without apparent reason
  • movement–slowness in movement, clumsiness
  • problems with concentration–too many thoughts at once, being easily distracted, voices interrupting your concentration
  • problems with communication–trouble organizing thoughts into words and sentences, trouble saying what you want to say, voices telling you not to say certain things
  • negative symptoms–problems getting things started, not following through with plans, not being interested in things you used to like, trouble expressing emotions, trouble getting everyday tasks done, difficulty with hygiene, thought-stopping, difficulty speaking, still face, poor eye contact
  • can’t see your symptoms for what they are, feeling nothing’s wrong or that he/she doesn’t have symptoms when everyone else disagrees
  • social–hard time making friends, trouble with assertiveness
  • memory problems
  • having trouble working full-time

Schizophrenia affects about 1%, or one out of every 100 people, all over the world. This means that in the Greater Twin Cities area, there are around 30,000 people with schizophrenia.

Schizophrenia is not contagious, it is not mental retardation, it is not multiple personality disorder, it is not a personal weakness or a result of bad parenting. It’s no one’s fault.


Chemical imbalances in your brain. Scientists believe that some people’s genes (which are part of them from before they are born) make them vulnerable to schizophrenia, and that vulnerability combined with stress can cause the symptoms to appear. However, our understanding of the causes of schizophrenia still isn’t very good.

Schizophrenia often has episodes of more intense symptoms, followed by times of less intense symptoms. Some people have less severe cases than others.

*”Schizoaffective Disorder” involves both schizophrenia and depression or bipolar episodes, this list covers the schizophrenia part of this disorder

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