If you know—or if you even suspect—that you or a loved one has schizophrenia or some other psychotic illness, you’ve come to the right place. The Schizophrenia Clinical and Research Program at Massachusetts General Hospital is recognized throughout the world as a leader in evaluating and treating this type of illness. We’ve helped thousands of people cope with and even overcome their symptoms to lead fuller, more normal, more fulfilling lives.

If you’re dealing with a psychotic illness like schizophrenia, you may feel frightened or overwhelmed. And that’s normal. Schizophrenia is serious, but also misunderstood. It's more common than you might think, but treatment can be highly effective so many people can and do recover. 

As you might know, there’s a lot of confusion and stigma surrounding schizophrenia. That’s why some people wait months or even years before seeking treatment, but that is a serious mistake. Delaying treatment can lead to worsened symptoms as well as related problems with relationships, employment or substance use.

If you believe you’re dealing with a psychotic illness, the best way to get help is by seeking treatment immediately. 

What Is Schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia is a disease of the brain that interferes with normal thoughts, feelings and behaviors.

Schizophrenia is the most common kind of “psychosis”—a term meaning to be out of touch with reality. But it’s not the only kind. Psychosis can also result from other conditions like bipolar disorder, depression or substance abuse.

Positive Symptoms

A person with schizophrenia can have varying symptoms that might change over time. They can include:

  • Hearing voices
  • Seeing things that aren’t there
  • Believing your thoughts aren’t private
  • Disorganized thoughts or speech
  • Perceiving coded signals or messages in your environment
  • Paranoia

These are called “positive symptoms”: People with schizophrenia experience them, others don’t.

Negative Symptoms

People with schizophrenia are sometimes also unengaged in certain things. These “negative symptoms” can include:

  • Inability to show emotions or feel pleasure
  • Decreased socialization
  • Low levels of activity or motivation
  • Difficulty initiating a conversation or project
  • Lack of motivation for personal self care
  • Poor relationship skills
  • Inattention

Negative symptoms are often the most troubling aspect of the disease because they can create enormous anxiety and distress for individuals as well as family members. As a result of these symptoms, individuals with schizophrenia can also have problems in their social functioning. They might drop out of school, have difficulty holding down a job or withdraw from society.

Getting the Right Diagnosis

Schizophrenia isn’t like other medical conditions. You can’t detect it from a blood test, CAT scan or PET scan. A diagnosis of schizophrenia must come from an experienced doctor who evaluates the symptoms and rules out other physical problems that could be causing them—for example, drug and/or alcohol abuse, or a brain tumor. Schizophrenia can only be diagnosed once symptoms have been present for at least six months.

At Mass General, we have deep expertise in diagnosing psychotic illness. Our team includes some of the top schizophrenia specialists working in the field today, many of them with international reputations.