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What You Need to Know About Schizophrenia

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74041 A 33-year-old woman hears “brutal and frightening” voices daily but continues her college studies. A middle-aged man, who served in the Navy and has since struggled with substance abuse, spends 10 weeks homeless. And another man lives alone with “mental confusion and chaos,” yet tends to his garden. He has trouble using clocks to stay on top of medication, so instead uses a mirrored prism to track time. Three very different people, all living with schizophrenia.

 

Positive or Negative – When Neither Is Good

Schizophrenia is a severe brain disorder that can involve breaks with reality. The mental illness, which affects 2.4 million adults in the U.S., disrupts people’s thought processes and ability to function day to day. Untreated, schizophrenia impairs people’s ability to manage their emotions and coexist with others.

Symptoms of schizophrenia can be “positive” or “negative.” (Some people have both types.) Positive symptoms include hallucinations, delusions – sometimes paranoid, disorganized thinking and repetitive or agitated body movements.

Negative symptoms are more subtle. “Flat affect” comes across as monotone speech or a motionless, expressionless face while talking. People exhibit less and less pleasure in life and lose their ability to function normally. They neglect their hygiene and show signs of social withdrawal – becoming more and more isolated from family and friends.

Problems with decision-making, focus, comprehension and memory affect some people as well, making it that much harder to succeed at school or work or to lead an independent life.

While schizophrenia occurs in about 1 percent of the general population, the odds rise to 10 percent if a parent or sibling has it, and to roughly 50 percent if an identical twin does. Schizophrenia starts young. Typically, symptoms first show up in people between years 16 and 30, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

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