Introduction to Schizophrenic Disorders

What you’ll learn to do: explain the characteristics, symptoms, and etiology of schizophrenic disorders

Word salad of various words embroidered on a cloth.

Figure 1. Speaking in word salad, or random words strung together without meaning, is sometimes characteristic of schizophrenia.

Schizophrenia is a severe disorder characterized by a breakdown in a person’s ability to function in life. People with schizophrenia experience hallucinations, delusions, or both and may have extreme difficulty regulating their emotions and behavior. Thinking tends to be incoherent and disorganized, the ability to communicate may be affected, some behaviors may be unusual by social standards, expression of emotions can be flattened, and motivation to engage in most basic life activities may be lacking. More often than not, an individual diagnosed with schizophrenia will require hospitalization, especially when they are first manifesting symptoms, in order to evaluate and treat them accurately; some persons will need ongoing additional support while others will respond to treatment and be able to work and be successful in life.

Schizophrenia is not to be confused with dissociative identity disorder, which confusion is a common mistake. The main characteristic of dissociative disorders is that people become dissociated from their sense of self, resulting in memory and identity disturbances; dissociative symptoms do not include psychotic symptoms nor the emotional and communication problems characteristic of schizophrenia spectrum disorders—these are very different types of disorders. Schizophrenia spectrum disorders are marked by at least two or more of the following symptoms: delusions, hallucinations, disorganized thinking, abnormal motor behavior, or other negative symptoms. Other psychotic disorders that include some degree of these characterizing features include schizotypal personality disorder, delusional disorder, brief psychotic disorder, schizophreniform disorder, schizoaffective disorder, and psychotic disorder related to substance abuse or other medical conditions.