Schizophrenia is a class of mental disorders marked by psychotic episodes during which affected individuals exhibit gross distortions of thought and an inability to test reality. The word schizophrenia, translated from Greek, means "split brain" and refers to the splitting of cognitive function from emotional and motor behavior. In patients with schizophrenia, the integrative centers of the brain, namely the limbic system and the cortex of the prefrontal and temporal lobes, are not functioning normally. The currently accepted hypothesis for this disturbance in function postulates that, in patients with the condition, there is an overproduction of dopamine in the mesolimbic neurons that project to the limbic system and to the prefrontal cortex. This hypothesis is, of course, only one of many possible explanations behind this highly complex brain disorder

The symptoms that result from the hypothesized dopminergic dysfunction can be broken into two categories. Positive symptoms include cognitive, emotional, and behavioral excesses. Hallucinations, delusions, incoherent speech, inappropriate emotional responses, and an overly animated affect are all examples of positive symptoms. Negative symptoms include cognitive, emotional, and behavioral deficits. Blank stares, blunted affect, slowed movement and speech, and social withdrawal are all examples of negative symptoms. Absorbed by distorted beliefs and out of touch with the world around them, many schizophrenics exhibit bizarre behaviors such as talking to themselves or sitting for several hours at a time in the same awkward position.

Psychiatrists distinguish between five different types of schizophrenia, each characterized by a different combination of stereotypic behaviors. Disorganized schizophrenia is used to describe individuals who exhibit illogical thinking, incoherent speech, childish mannerisms, overly animated emotions, and who often neglect personal hygiene. Paranoid schizophrenics are characterized by a preoccupation with delusions or hallucinations, often becoming irrationally suspicious or hostile. Catatonic schizophrenia is a more rare form of the condition marked by extremes in motor behavior. Individuals with catatonic schizophrenia may spend hours in the same, motionless pose or, at the other extreme, may become overcome with energetic bursts of hyperactivity. Undifferentiated schizophrenia is a term used to describe those individuals who exhibit a wide range of symptoms and cannot be classified under one specific category. Residual schizophrenics are individuals who have had previous schizophrenic episodes but who are currently not experiencing any major symptoms of the disorder.

It is estimated that close to 1% of the American population is afflicted with a schizophrenic disorder. For men, the onset of symptoms tends to occur between the ages of eighteen to twenty-five. For women, the onset is usually later, occurring between the ages of twenty-six to forty-five. In some cases, after striking suddenly and unexpectedly, the disorder disappears and may be followed by a full recovery. In other cases, however, symptoms develop more gradually and remain problematic, if left untreated, throughout the individual's lifetime. To learn more about this disturbing disorder, visit the schizophrenia homepage, an informative site with many helpful links.