What is Schizophrenia? – THE BASICS

Two couples relaxing at outdoor cafe, smiling

The word “schizophrenia” often conjures up fear or apprehension because of misinformation in the movies and on TV/the web about the disorder.

People with schizophrenia are generally portrayed as disheveled, scary, violent people who yell at no one. In actuality, people with schizophrenia are not more violent than anyone else and look “regular.”

An outsider may see only someone ‘out of touch with reality.’ In fact we are experiencing so many realities that it is often confusing and sometimes totally overwhelming.”
(anonymous client quoted in Surviving Schizophrenia, by E. Fuller Torrey)

Think about it, how many people are you acquainted with? One hundred? More? Schizophrenia disorders occur in roughly 1% of the population, so for every one hundred people you know or even see walking around, one has schizophrenia. As medications have improved, so have the lives of people with schizophrenia. They look like anyone else, they work, they have hobbies, and they live in our neighborhoods. They are people who struggle, but aren’t we all? Below are some basic facts about schizophrenia that might help dispel any misconceptions.


  • Schizophrenia is a brain disorder. When schizophrenia symptoms get high, changes in behavior and thinking often are a result. They can involve: hearing voices, seeing visions, false and scary beliefs (like “people are out to get me”), strange behavior, seeming slow, poor grooming, and outbursts of irritation (not usually violence)
  • “The vast majority of people with schizophrenia are not violent and do not pose a danger to others.”
    –The Mental Health America Resource Center

  • It is not mental retardation or multiple personality disorder.
  • Schizophrenia affects males and females in equal rates, and about 1 out of every 100 people in America and around the world have schizophrenia.
  • Schizophrenia is a treatable illness. The symptoms can go up and down, and often people are able to do pretty well when their symptoms are not severe. Many people are completely “normal” when their symptoms are not severe. You probably can’t tell they have schizophrenia at those times.
  • There are many things that are thought to be involved in the development of schizophrenia, such as genetics, brain anatomy, and illness in the womb, but no single cause of schizophrenia has been found.

“Schizophrenia is not caused by childhood experiences, poor parenting, or lack of willpower.”
–The Mental Health America Resource Center

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