1191298435_0b95af8b7c_zImage by Ehsan Khakbaz via Flickr. Creative Commons License


“How could you, a mathematician, believe that extraterrestrials were sending you messages?” the visitor from Harvard asked the West Virginian with the movie-star looks and Olympian manner. “Because the ideas I had about supernatural beings came to me the same way my mathematical ideas did,” came the answer. “So I took them seriously.” — Excerpt from A Beautiful Mind by Sylvia Nasar

Schizophrenia is the quintessential mental illness. Ask someone what they think of when they hear the word schizophrenia and the answers are revealing. The malodorous woman who sits under the overpass mumbling to no one, her grocery cart of worldly possessions at her side; the man on the bus who rides for hours, sitting in the corner, muttering quietly to himself; a peculiar uncle who never left his parents’ house, kept to himself, and wore a tin foil hat for “protection.”  We all have our stereotypes, some reinforced by experience, others by cultural norms and expectations. However, these images barely scratch the surface of a complex, often tragic illness.

Schizophrenia typically develops just as individuals are beginning to spread their wings in adulthood, often striking college-age men and women. The illness most often emerges when individuals are in their 20s (early 20s for men and later 20s for women), although it can rarely occur much earlier or much later. While there is a strong genetic component, the majority of people who develop schizophrenia have no family history of psychosis. Rather than “suddenly snap” or have a “psychotic break,” most people show symptoms gradually over the course of a few months. Once bright and engaged, they may become withdrawn, keeping to themselves.  They may show odd behavior or have what others perceive as “weird” thoughts or notions – seeing patterns in the world where none are meant to exist or reading personal messages from information on the TV or Internet. For some, there is the constant chatter of voices that are distinct from the commentary most of us carry on inside our own heads; rather it is a sense of hearing someone speaking from outside your own mind.  

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