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Clinical Characteristics of Schizophrenia

Written by Keiron Walsh
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Schizophrenia is a psychotic disorder; this means that it involves a loss of contact with reality. Schizophrenia sufferers experience hallucinations (perception of phenomena that do not exist - e.g., hearing voices) and delusions (false beliefs). Schizophrenia sufferers, therefore, often have severe difficulties in functioning.

Before 1911 schizophrenia was known as dementia praecox (Kraepelin, 1899), which means “precocious dementia”. Eugen Bleuler (1911) renamed the disorder “schizophrenia”, combining the Greek words for “split mind” (Schizein=split phrenos=mind). A common misunderstanding is that schizophrenia is the presence of two or more personalities. However, Dissociative Identity Disorder is the diagnosis given when a clinician suspects the presence of two or more personalities (Dissociative Identity Disorder used to be called Multiple Personality Disorder). Bleuler used the term schizophrenia because: There is a fragmentation of thought processes, a split between thoughts and emotions and a withdrawal from reality:

“I call dementia praecox "schizophrenia" because (as I hope to demonstrate) the "splitting" of the different psychic functions is one of its most important characteristics. For the sake of convenience, I use the word in the singular although it is apparent that the group includes several diseases. (Bleuler, 1911)”

The term 'schizophrenia' replaced 'dementia praecox' because it suggests that there is a progressive physical deteriation of the brain. Schizophrenia, on the other hand emphasises the psychological aspects of the disorder. Recently, there have been calls for the name of the disorder to be returned to dementia praecox given the large amount of evidence suggestive of an organic brain dysfunction (Adityanjee et al., 1999)

Symptoms of Schizophrenia (DSM IV)

To be diagnosed with Schizophrenia, a person must have two or more of the following symptoms for a significant portion of a one month period of time:

  • delusions

  • hallucinations

  • disorganized speech (e.g., frequent derailment or incoherence)

  • grossly disorganized or catatonic behaviour

  • negative symptoms, i.e., affective flattening (flat mood), alogia (lack of speech), or avolition (being unable to initiate or persist in new activities)

More details of the clinical characteristics of schizophrenia can be found here

Useful teaching resource: Out of the Shadow DVD Filmed by the daughter of a schizophrenia sufferer, this documentary gives an unprecedented insight into this harrowing mental illness, dispelling the stigma and misconceptions surrounding it.


Adityanjee , Aderibigbe Y.A., Theodoridis D., Vieweg V.R. (1999) Dementia praecox to schizophrenia: the first 100 years. Psychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences 53(4):437-48.

Last modified on Sunday, 13 February 2011 13:36

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Keiron Walsh

Keiron Walsh

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