Updated 17 March 2016

What is schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia is not a 'split personality' as is commonly believed – delusions, hallucinations, disorganised speech and/or behaviour are common symptoms.


One of the most misused psychiatric terms is the word "schizophrenia", which is often incorrectly used to describe someone with a "split personality". This, however, is a total misconception.

Schizophrenia is a serious disorder of the brain that affects how people think, feel and act.  If not treated correctly, it can cause severe disability and loss of function.

Schizophrenia presents as follows:

  • Positive symptoms are characterised by delusions, hallucinations, disorganised speech and/or behaviour.
  • Negative symptoms consist of social withdrawal, lack of motivation, emotional blunting and lack of energy.
  • Cognitive symptoms include difficulty with attention, concentration and memory.

Any person can develop the disorder and it can occur at any age, although it is rare for a person to develop the disorder after the age of 45 for the first time. It usually appears at a young age (late teens and early twenties).

Emil Kraepelin (1856–1936) first described this disease at the beginning of the 20th century and the name "schizophrenia" was used in 1911 by Eugene Bleuler (1857–1939).


It is estimated that 1% of the population worldwide may suffer from schizophrenia. However, the disorder occurs more often in families where schizophrenia has previously been diagnosed.

If a person has one parent with the diagnosis of schizophrenia, he or she has a 10 – 15% chance of also developing the disorder. This percentage increases when both parents are affected.

If one has an identical twin with the disorder, there is almost 40–50% chance of developing schizophrenia.

Read more:

Symptoms of schizophrenia

Causes of schizophrenia

Treating schizophrenia

Reviewed by Dr Tasneem Mahomed,MBBCh(Wits), FC Psych (SA),MmedPsych (Wits),

Psychiatrist in private practice, Cape Town. March 2015.



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