Healthy Living

Is Schizophrenia a Mental Illness?

Is Schizophrenia a Mental Illness?

It is a formidable task to define schizophrenia unless we accept an unsatisfactory definition that consists of a list of the most common characteristics of the disorder.

Some psychiatrists consider schizophrenia as an illness, others a syndrome, a mental mechanism, or even a way of living. There is some truth in each of these views, and yet at closer analysis, all of them prove to be unsatisfactory. The understanding or the clarity that they seem to offer reflect the facility of approaches that take into consideration only one or a few aspects of a complicated problem.

Schizophrenia can simply be described as a psychogenic disorder, involving the splitting of the various psychic functions, rather than a progression toward a dementia state as one of the outstanding characteristics.

However, most experts are of the view that even normal people, when preoccupied or distracted, show a number of schizophrenic symptoms, such as peculiar associations, incomplete concepts and ideas, displacements, logical blunders, and stereotypes. This implies that the individual symptom in itself is less important than its intensity and extensiveness, and above all, its relation to a psychological setting.

The disorder makes it difficult to understand and differentiate between reality and unrealistic things, have clear thoughts, managing emotions, relating to others, and functioning normally. However, this does not mean that there is any hope. If the early signs and symptoms are identified, it becomes easier to treat. With proper treatment and health care support, any person who has schizophrenia can live a normal, healthy, and fulfilling life.

What exactly is schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia is a brain disorder that affects how a person behaves, sees, and thinks about the world and the people around him. People who have the disorder see and hear things that do not exist, speak in a strange way, believe that others can harm them, and feel that they are being watched. For these reasons, it is quite difficult for them to carry out their daily activities. People with schizophrenia often cut themselves out from the outside world.


The cause of schizophrenia is not clear, but it is usually a result of genetic and environmental factors that affect not only the relationships and daily routine of the person, but also involve drinking and drug problems, which are often used as self-medication. It makes a person more prone in attempting to commit suicide. Any talks about the suicide or threat should be taken seriously. A person who has a first-degree relative, parent, or sibling that suffers from schizophrenia has a 10 percent chance of developing the disorder. On the other hand, the general population has a 1 percent chance. The genetic pattern of the human body also influences the disorder but does not determine it.

What triggers the disorder?

More and more research points at the high levels of stress to be the main reason for the disorder. Other factors that could cause schizophrenia are:

  • prenatal infection on the brain's development 
  • prolonged labor, premature birth, or low level of oxygen during birth
  • parental loss or separation
  • physical abuse during childhood
  • exposing infants to unhealthy viral atmospheres

Classification of the Symptoms of Schizophrenia

Eugen Bleuler (1857-1939), a Swiss psychiatrist, whose role in the history of psychiatry will remain an important one, classified the symptoms of schizophrenia in two sets of groups:

  • the groups of fundamental and accessory symptoms
  • the groups of primary and secondary symptoms

The fundamental symptoms are not necessarily the primary ones; they are the symptoms that are present to an extent in every case of schizophrenia, whether latent or manifest. The accessory symptoms are those that may or may not occur. Among the fundamental symptoms, Bleuler included the disorder of the process of association, which he considered as the most important characteristic of schizophrenia, and also a particular type of thinking and behavior that he called autism. Among the accessory symptoms, he included the acute manifestations of psychosis such as delusions, hallucinations, catatonic postures, and so forth.

Primary symptoms are directly related to the disease process; they are the necessary phenomena of the disease. The most important of them is again the association disorder. Secondary symptoms are caused by a combination of the action of the primary ones and the action of psychogenic factors.

Most schizophrenic symptoms, including thought disorders, have to be interpreted as an impairment of ego functions and expression of the resurgence of the primary process. The primary process is a way of functioning of the unconscious, as well as of mental life in early childhood before the system preconscious comes into being. According to Freud, in schizophrenia, there is an attempt at restitution; that is, an attempt to invest again with energy (or to recathect) the objects that have been decathected. Hallucinations and delusions are interpreted by Freud as attempts to reestablish contact with the world and to reinvest energy in the environment.

Schizophrenia requires a long treatment so that people can enjoy their lives again with their family and friends.

The Bottom Line

Apparently, schizophrenia is not an illness, but probably only a special way of coping with life. Once more, a semantic controversy complicates the issue. If we define illness as a state in which bodily health is impaired, we cannot at present call schizophrenia an illness because there is no uncontroversial evidence of bodily impairment. If by illness, we mean an undesirable state of the subject, resulting in alterations of his basic functions, including the psychological, then schizophrenia is certainly a mental illness. Schizophrenia, as well as most mental illnesses or psychiatric conditions, does not fit the medical model. This realization does not necessarily lead to the conclusion that the concept of schizophrenia or any mental illness is a myth.

Another misconception associated with schizophrenia is referring to it as a split personality. The truth is that people suffering from a schizophrenia disorder do not have a split personality rather they split off from the world. It is not a rare condition and happens to 1 out of 100 people. It can occasionally be dangerous as a person might sometimes develop tendencies to get violent.