Schizophrenia is a serious mental disorder that affects your ability to think and act clearly. When you have schizophrenia, your brain often tells you you’re seeing things or hearing voices that aren’t there. This makes it hard to tell what’s real and what isn’t. It also affects how well you think, make decisions, and manage your emotions.
Around 1% of people in the U.S. have schizophrenia. It affects men and women equally. Women tend to get schizophrenia in their 20s or 30s. Men tend to get it in their late teens to early 20s. It’s rare in kids younger than 12. And it usually doesn’t appear for the first time in adults over 40.
If you get schizophrenia, you might have:
- Delusions -- false beliefs that don’t change even when you’re given new ideas and facts
- A hard time remembering things
- Disordered thoughts
- Hallucinations -- hearing voices, or seeing or smelling things others can’t
- Lack of emotion in your face or voice
- Problems focusing
- Trouble understanding information and making decisions
Commonly, people with schizophrenia don’t know they have it, which can make treatment much more challenging.
Myths and Facts
Schizophrenia is often misunderstood by people who don’t know much about it. Here are some common myths.
Myth: It gives you multiple personalities.
Fact: Some of the most common symptoms of schizophrenia are hallucinations and delusions, which include hearing voices in your head and acting on false beliefs. This isn’t the same as multiple personality disorder, or, more accurately, dissociative identity disorder (DID).
Myth: If your mom or dad has it, you’ll get it.
Fact: It’s true schizophrenia runs in families, but just because you have a relative with the disorder doesn’t mean you’ll get it. You might have a slightly higher risk, but scientists don’t think genes are the only cause. Certain viruses, not getting enough nutrition before you’re born, and other factors play a role in turning on the genes.
Myth: It makes you violent.
Fact: Most people with schizophrenia aren’t dangerous. People with schizophrenia are more likely to be victims of violence. They’re also more likely to harm themselves than others -- suicide rates among people with schizophrenia are high.
Studies show disorders like schizophrenia often result in substance abuse problems, and that can lead to violence. But the disorder alone doesn’t make you physically aggressive.
Myth: It comes on with a sudden psychotic break.
Fact: Some people have a big mental event that leads to a schizophrenia diagnosis. But symptoms can appear over time and are hard to notice. If you have early symptoms of schizophrenia, you might:
- Be less social
- Show less interest in normal activities
- Withdraw from everyday life
Other symptoms, like acting out delusions and hallucinating, can show up later.
Myth: You have to live in a mental hospital.
Fact: The level of care you need depends on how severe your symptoms are. Many people with schizophrenia are able to live and work just like everyone else. It’s important to be in close contact with your doctor, and to have support in place to help you continue your treatment as needed.
Myth: It gets worse over time.
Fact: Schizophrenia can’t be cured. But if it’s caught early and you get the right treatment, you can manage your symptoms. Antipsychotic medications help stabilize you, and lower the risk of future symptoms. Talk therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy are also helpful tools to help you handle stress better and live well.