“Mental Disorder Pictures Schizophrenics experience a disconnect with reality. See more mental disorder pictures.Sheryl Maree Reily/Getty Images
History suggests that schizophrenia has probably been plaguing people and throwing them into social isolation for millennia. Despite the vast amounts of research, the disorder, characterized by bizarre behavior and emotional withdrawal, remains largely a mystery. As many as 24 million people worldwide and about 1 percent of the American population 18 and up have schizophrenia [source: WHO, NIMH]. About 10 percent of those with the disorder end their own lives [source: NIMH]. Schizophrenics often experience delusions, hallucinations, social and emotional withdrawal and unexplainable behavior.
Although the disorder has probably been present throughout human history, it was not classified accurately until the late 19th century. In the early 20th century, the German psychiatrist Eugen Bleuler came up with the name "schizophrenia," from the Greek words for "split" and "mind," to describe the illness. He chose this term based not on the idea of "split personalities," a common misconception, but rather because schizophrenics experience a disconnect with reality. Bleuler also often referred to the disease in the plural ("schizophrenias") as he recognized that the condition can take an array of different forms.
Sometimes, it is difficult to distinguish schizophrenia from such conditions as depression or bipolar disorder, which is one reason why it’s so important to see a doctor who can rule out other possibilities.
Knowing that the disorder can come so late in life can be frightening for young adults who suspect they might be developing it. So, how do you know if you’re experiencing the onset of schizophrenia? Knowing the specific symptoms will help you decide whether you should consult a trained psychiatrist for a diagnosis, and we’ll discuss those on the next page.
The Effects of Drugs and Alcohol
While substance abuse probably cannot cause schizophrenia, it is more common among schizophrenics than in the general population. Addictions to nicotine, for instance, are three times more common for those with schizophrenia [source: NIMH]. Unfortunately, those schizophrenics who are also substance abusers are not only more likely to be violent, but also less likely to continue taking treatment for the disorder. In addition, marijuana, PCP and certain stimulants can exacerbate schizophrenic symptoms [Source: NIMH]. Some studies indicate that smoking can prevent antipsychotic medications from working effectively. On the other hand, one study suggests that the anti-inflammatory effects of nicotine could actually help relieve symptoms of schizophrenia [source: Melton]. Although the authors of the study warn that negative effects of the drug make it too dangerous to be used for treatment in itself, it offers hope for developing other effective drugs.