Basic Facts About Schizophrenia


It’s not what you think…

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  • A brain disease—the result of physical and biochemical changes in the brain
  • Youth’s greatest disabler—age of onset is usually 15 – 24 years
  • Treatable with medication
  • More common than you think. It afflicts one in 100 people worldwide – that’s about 40,000 of your BC neighbours.


  • A split personality
  • Caused by childhood trauma, bad parenting, or poverty
  • The result of any actions or personal failures of the individual


Symptoms of schizophrenia include disordered thinking, changes in emotions, bizarre behaviour, paranoia, hallucinations, delusions, cognitive deficits (damage to short-term memory and executive functioning ? i.e., unable to organize, categorize, prioritize, make decisions). Cognitive impairment is a core feature of the illness, and a reliable predictor of outcomes.

  • Schizophrenia can be a devastating illness. 40-50% of people with schizophrenia attempt suicide. Approximately 12-15% succeed.
  • Early intervention and treatment of symptoms are critical. Evidence indicates that the sooner someone is stabilized on treatment, the better the prognosis for the illness.
  • 8% of hospital beds are presently occupied by people with schizophrenia…more than by sufferers of any other medical condition.
  • Schizophrenia strikes one in 100. That means about 310,000 Canadians will be diagnosed with this illness at some point in their lives. The total cost estimate to Canada for victims of schizophrenia is $6.85 billion per year. Yet research expenditures are lower than for any other major disease.
  • There is as yet no “cure” for schizophrenia. But there is good treatment and there is hope. With new discoveries in brain research and other scientific developments, we are finally on the threshold of an entirely new era of understanding.

“Compassion follows understanding. It is therefore incumbent on us to understand as best we can. The burden of disease will then become lighter for all.”

— Dr. E. Fuller Torrey

Many people with schizophrenia do not receive proper medical treatment and other necessary supports. Severe cognitive deficits and inexplicable perceptions make the person anxious as they struggle to cope with disordered thoughts, internal voices, visual hallucinations or other debilitating symptoms that may cause bizarre behaviours. Without patient education plus support from family, friends and professionals, people in the community may reject someone suffering from schizophrenia because they do not understand the enormous difficulties the person is experiencing.


Symptoms of schizophrenia are generally divided into three categories: POSITIVE symptoms, NEGATIVE symptoms, and COGNITIVE symptoms.


  • Hallucinations: People with schizophrenia may hear, see, or less commonly, taste, smell or feel things that are not there.
  • Delusions: Ideas that are strange and out of touch with reality, often under the categories of
  • Paranoia – Belief that others can read your thoughts, are plotting against you, or secretly monitoring your activities.
  • Grandiosity – Belief that you can control other people’s minds, or that you are a well-known historical or media figure, or an important and influential personage (writer, artist, musician, inventor, politician, police or military personnel, religious figure, etc.)

“Positive” as used here does not mean “good”. It refers to having symptoms that ordinarily should not be there.

Positive symptoms are some-times called “psychotic” symp-toms since the patient has lost touch with reality in certain important ways.


  • Affective Flattening: Marked by diminished emotional responsiveness, including: few expressive gestures; changes in facial expression; stilted, forced or artificial gestures; poor eye contact; lack of vocal inflection; decreased spontaneous movements.
  • Alogia: Poverty of speech and of its content; lack of spontane-ity and flow of conversation; inability to communicate.
  • Avolition (Apathy) Associated with social with-drawal: physical anergia; im-paired grooming and hygiene; lack of persistence in perform-ing activities.
  • Anhedonia (Asociality) Few recreational interests/ activities; impaired personal and social relationships; detached, uncommunicative, distant.
  • Inattention: Impaired concentration: social inattentiveness; lack of focus during conversation or interview; poor rapport.


  • Disorganized Perceptions: Difficulty making sense of common sights, sounds, and feelings. Perceptions may be distorted so ordinary things seem distracting or frightening. There is extra sensitivity to noises, colours and shapes.
  • Disorganized Thinking and Speech: Trouble understanding language, communicating in coherent sentences, or carrying on a conversation. Odd word associations; “word salad.”
  • Disorganized Behaviour: Loss of short-term memory and organizational skills make planning, prioritizing, and decision-making tasks very difficult, if not impossible.

Cognitive impairment is now recognized as a core feature of schizophrenia. Present in most patients, it is independent of symptoms such as delusions and hallucinations, and a major cause of poor social and vocational outcome. It is also reliably associated with the neurobiology of the disorder.

PDF (printable) version of this document: Schizophrenia Fact Sheet