What is Schizophrenia?

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), schizophrenia “affects 2.4 million American adults over the age of 18.” It affects men and women equally; men begin to display symptoms between their late teens and early twenties and it begins to appear in women between their late twenties and early thirties.  Schizophrenia is a chronic, severe, and disabling brain disorder in which people may hear voices others do not hear and they may believe others are reading their minds, controlling their thoughts, or plotting to harm them. These experiences may terrify people with schizophrenia, which may make them withdrawn or extremely agitated. People with schizophrenia may not make sense when they talk or they may sit for hours without moving or talking.

At this time, it is not known what exactly causes schizophrenia. However, research has linked schizophrenia to several possible causes that include genes, environment, and brain chemistry and structure. Scientists have known for a long time that schizophrenia runs in families. Although the disorder only occurs in one percent of the population, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) “it occurs in 10 percent of people who have a first-degree relative with the disorder, such as a parent, brother, or sister.” Those with second-degree relatives, (such as aunts, uncles, grandparents or cousins) who have schizophrenia also develop it more often than the general population. Scientists believe that no gene causes the disorder by itself, but that several genes are associated with an increased risk of schizophrenia. According to NIMH, scientists have recently found “that people with schizophrenia tend to have higher rates of rare genetic mutations. These genetic differences involve hundreds of different genes and probably disrupt brain development.” It is suggested by recent studies that the disorder may also result in part when a certain gene that is essential in the making of brain chemicals malfunctions. Research on this gene continues, so it is not possible at this time to use this information to predict who will develop schizophrenia. There is a possibility that it takes more than just genes to cause schizophrenia. Scientists believe that it is necessary for there to be an interaction between genes and the environment for schizophrenia to develop. Environmental factors may include exposure to viruses, malnutrition before birth, problems during birth, and other unknown psychosocial factors.

There is also a possibility that an imbalance in the brain’s complex, yet interrelated, chemical reactions that involve the neurotransmitters dopamine and glutamate (and possibly others) plays a role in schizophrenia. There are also small differences between the brains of people with schizophrenia and those without. This includes ventricles that are larger in some people with schizophrenia, they tend to have less grey matter, and some areas of the brain show less or more activity. Researchers and scientists are working hard to learn more about schizophrenia.

We ran a search in REHABDATA and found over 800 articles in our collection that focus on schizophrenia. Here are just a few of them:

  • Development and usability testing of FOCUS: A smartphone system for self-management of schizophrenia. NARIC Accession Number: J67801.
  • Use of evidence-based practice in rehabilitation counseling: Facilitating recovery and community integration for persons with schizophrenia. NARIC Accession Number: J67249.
  • Essential evidence-based components of first-episode psychosis services. NARIC Accession Number: J66515.

If you or a loved one has schizophrenia and are looking for help, please contact your doctor right away. If you are thinking about suicide, please call the Suicide Helpline at 800/273-8255. Or if you are looking for resources, please visit our resource page on Mental Health or our publication Librarian’s Picks: Mental Health for more information. You can also contact one of our information specialists by calling 800/346-2742, via chat, or via email.

About mpgarcia

I'm the Bilingual Information/Media Specialist at NARIC.
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