Schizophrenia Signs & Symptoms

The signs, symptoms, and effects of schizophrenia can be different for every person impacted. Learning about schizophrenia is one of the first steps towards getting better.

Understanding Schizophrenia

Learn about schizophrenia

Schizophrenia is a severe mental illness that causes those who are suffering from it to experience gross misinterpretations of the world around them. Individuals with schizophrenia struggle to function cognitively, behaviorally, and emotionally across many, if not all, areas of daily living. As a disorder of thought and perception, schizophrenia may cause individuals to experience extreme difficulty thinking clearly and may impair their ability to distinguish between what is real and what is not real. Individuals who have schizophrenia may also display inappropriate affect regarding the situations that they are in, and they can experience episodes of derealization and depersonalization. Paranoia and extreme anxiety also often plague those who are suffering from schizophrenia.

Unfortunately, individuals who suffer from schizophrenia frequently find themselves trapped in patterns of substance abuse and addiction. Many may turn to drugs or alcohol as an attempt to self-medicate the distressing symptoms they are experiencing. While the symptoms of this illness can be devastating, and often debilitating, there are treatment options available for individuals are suffering from both schizophrenia and co-occurring substance use disorders. Engaging in such treatment options can help these individuals gain a sense of control and live full, productive, and meaningful lives.


Schizophrenia statistics

The American Psychiatric Association (APA) reports that schizophrenia affects between 0.3% and 0.7% of the population. Men and women are affected by this mental health disorder in relatively equal numbers, yet the symptoms that are displayed tend to vary between the two genders. Sadly, the suicide rates among people diagnosed with schizophrenia are high, with the APA noting that between 5% and 6% of schizophrenia sufferers have died as the result of suicide. Furthermore, experts estimate that another 20% of individuals who have schizophrenia will attempt suicide at least once.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for schizophrenia

The causes and risk factors that impact an individual’s vulnerability for suffering from schizophrenia are described briefly in the following paragraphs:

Genetic: Research has determined that there is a strong genetic impact on one’s risk for developing schizophrenia. According to the APA, spectrum of risk alleles, or corresponding risk genes, can contribute to the onset of schizophrenia. When individuals have family members who suffer from schizophrenia, their risk for suffering from the disorder is increased. Additionally, having a family history of other mental health conditions, including depression, bipolar disorder, and autism spectrum disorder, can also increase an individual’s risk for suffering from schizophrenia.

Environmental: Researchers believe that certain environmental factors can also play a role in affecting a person’s susceptibility to experiencing schizophrenia. For example, the APA states that growing up in an urban environment, being born during certain seasons, and certain prenatal and perinatal factors can potentially increase the incidence of schizophrenia.

Risk Factors:

  • Personal history of paranoid personality disorder or schizotypal personality disorder
  • Family history of mental illness
  • Having a biological father who is of advanced age
  • Suffering from oxygen deficiency while in the womb or during the birthing process
  • Prenatal malnutrition
  • Experiencing the incidence of various prenatal or perinatal adversities, including maternal diabetes, infections, and stress

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of schizophrenia

The signs and symptoms of schizophrenia can vary substantially from person to person. The symptoms are often classified into three distinct groups, which are described in the following:

Positive symptoms: Positive symptoms refer to behaviors that are psychotic in nature. They are behaviors that are not displayed by people who are not suffering from schizophrenia. The presence of these symptoms often indicates that an individual has lost touch with reality and may include the following:

  • Disorganized behaviors
  • Disorganized speech
  • Delusions (Delusions occur when an individual maintains certain beliefs to be true, despite have evidence that proves to the contrary.)
  • Hallucinations (Hallucinations occur when individuals feel, taste, smell, see, or hear things that are not really there.)

Negative symptoms: Negative symptoms arise when individuals are no longer able to experience or execute certain emotional and/or behavioral capabilities. Examples of such symptoms may include the following:

  • Catatonic behaviors
  • Finding oneself incapable of articulating thoughts
  • No longer expressing emotions
  • No longer being able to experience pleasure
  • Having a weakened ability to speak appropriately or not being able to speak at all
  • No longer having the motivation needed to engage in purposeful activities
  • No longer caring for one’s personal hygiene

Cognitive symptoms: Cognitive symptoms tend to be more difficult to recognize as being symptomatic of schizophrenia as they present much more subtly. Examples of cognitive symptoms may include the following:

  • Memory problems
  • Hindered executive functioning abilities
  • Lacking the ability to concentrate


Effects of schizophrenia

When appropriate treatment is not received for schizophrenia, individuals are at risk for suffering from a multitude of negative consequences. Examples of such consequences can include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Inability to maintain employment
  • Financial difficulties
  • Homelessness
  • Pervasive anxiety
  • Overwhelming paranoia
  • Extreme social withdrawal
  • Deteriorated interpersonal relationships
  • Drug and/or alcohol abuse
  • Engaging in self-harming behaviors
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Making attempts at suicide

Co-Occurring Disorders

Schizophrenia and co-occurring disorders

It is possible for individuals who are suffering from schizophrenia to suffer from symptoms of other mental health conditions as well. The APA notes that a high prevalence of comorbid substance use disorders among individuals with schizophrenia.  For example, over half of schizophrenia sufferers also suffer from tobacco use disorder. In addition to battling addictions to drugs and/or alcohol, individuals who develop schizophrenia may also experience the following co-occurring conditions:

  • Panic disorder
  • Specific phobia
  • Social anxiety disorder
  • Other types of anxiety disorders
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Paranoid personality disorder
  • Schizotypal personality disorder

Marks of Quality Care
  • Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF)
  • Pennsylvania Department of Drug & Alcohol Programs
  • Glasser Quality Organization
  • The Jason Foundation