Why It Matters: Schizophrenia Spectrum and Other Psychotic Disorders

Why learn about schizophrenia spectrum and other psychotic disorders?

Artwork done by a 'paranoid schizophren.' Red eyes are drawn in rows across the paper.

Schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders are some of the most impairing forms of psychopathology, frequently associated with a profound negative effect on the individual’s educational, occupational, and social function. Sadly, these disorders often manifest right at the transition from adolescence to adulthood, just as young people are evolving into independent young adults. The spectrum or family of psychotic disorders includes schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, delusional disorder, schizotypal personality disorder, schizophreniform disorder, brief psychotic disorder, and psychosis associated with substance use or medical conditions. In this module, we summarize the primary clinical features of these disorders, describe the known cognitive and neurobiological changes associated with schizophrenia, describe potential risk factors and/or causes for the development of schizophrenia, and describe treatments for schizophrenia.

Perhaps you have encountered someone with schizophrenia or seen someone experiencing a psychotic episode. Individuals may have been talking to themselves or yelling at someone you could not see. If you tried to speak to them, they may have been difficult to follow or understand, or they may have acted paranoid or started telling a bizarre story about the people who were plotting against them. These behaviors are characteristic of the types of delusions, hallucinations, or eccentric behaviors exhibited by someone during a psychotic episode. Psychosis is a condition where an individual is out of touch with reality in some way, such as experiencing hallucinations (perceiving something that is not actually there such as hearing voices) and delusions (false beliefs based on faulty interpretations of reality). You have likely met people with schizophrenia without ever knowing it, as they may manage their symptoms in a way that you never know about it, or they may stay isolated to protect themselves from the frightening things they see, hear, or believe are operating in the outside world.

While individuals with schizophrenia are often portrayed as dangerous in media, those with schizophrenia are rarely violent and pose a much greater danger to themselves than others. These stereotypes and the accompanying stigma, however, are so accepted by most people in society, that persons with these disorders are frequently discriminated against with regard to relationships (even within their own families), housing, employment, and many other opportunities. Some people with schizophrenia have been famous for their impressive accomplishments, like NFL player and announcer Lionel Aldridge, or mathematician and Nobel Prize winner John Nash. Read on to learn more about it.

WAtch It

Youtuber Lauren runs a YouTube channel about her experiences with schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder. In this short clip, you’ll see that Lauren speaks openly about her experiences and is an advocate for living well with the disorder.

You can view the transcript for “What Living Well With Schizophrenia Means To Me” here (opens in new window).