Expert Q & A: Schizophrenia

Find answers to your questions about Schizophrenia written by leading psychiatrists.

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Definitions

Psychosis refers to a set of symptoms characterized by a loss of touch with reality due to a disruption in the way that the brain processes information. When someone experiences a psychotic episode, the person’s thoughts and perceptions are disturbed, and the individual may have difficulty understanding what is real and what is not.

Delusions are fixed false beliefs held despite clear or reasonable evidence that they are not true. Persecutory (or paranoid) delusions, when a person believes they are being harmed or harassed by another person or group, are the most common.

Hallucinations are the experience of hearing, seeing, smelling, tasting, or feeling things that are not there. They are vivid and clear with an impression similar to normal perceptions. Auditory hallucinations, “hearing voices,” are the most common in schizophrenia and related disorders.

Disorganized thinking and speech refer to thoughts and speech that are jumbled and/or do not make sense. For example, the person may switch from one topic to another or respond with an unrelated topic in conversation. The symptoms are severe enough to cause substantial problems with normal communication.

Disorganized or abnormal motor behavior are movements that can range from childlike silliness to unpredictable agitation or can manifest as repeated movements without purpose. When the behavior is severe, it can cause problems in the performance of activities of daily life. It includes catatonia, when a person appears as if in a daze with little movement or response to the surrounding environment.

Negative symptoms refer to what is abnormally lacking or absent in the person with a psychotic disorder. Examples include impaired emotional expression, decreased speech output, reduced desire to have social contact or to engage in daily activities, and decreased experience of pleasure.