Schizophrenia is the fourth leading cause of disability in the developed world (for ages 15-44). Schizophrenia usual starts in the late teens or early twenties, and then persists for a life-time. Schizophrenia rarely starts after age 45.
Usually this illness starts with a prepsychotic phase of social and academic/occupational impairment. A few months or years later, a psychotic phase develops (with delusions, hallucinations, or grossly bizarre/disorganized speech and behavior). This psychotic phase can last continuously for decades, or it can recur episodically.
Antipsychotic medication shortens the duration of this psychosis, and prevents recurrences (but psychotic relapses can still occur under stress). Usually it takes years before individuals can accept that they have Schizophrenia and need medication. When individuals stop their antipsychotic medication, it may take a few years before they suffer a psychotic relapse. Most, however, relapse within months. After each psychotic relapse there is increased intellectual impairment.
Life-long treatment with antipsychotic medication is essential for recovery from Schizophrenia. Individuals also require long-term emotional and financial support from their families. Most individuals with Schizophrenia qualify for government (or insurance) disability pensions. Social rehabilitation (e.g., club-houses, supervised social activities) and sheltered/volunteer employment are also essential.
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