More information based on publications by the BC Schizophrenia Society.

No-one knows precisely what the causes of this disease are, but researchers are coming closer, and many pieces of the puzzle are becoming clearer

“WE DO NOT YET UNDERSTAND PRECISELY THE CAUSE OR THE CAUSES OF SCHIZOPHRENIA, ALTHOUGH RESEARCH IS PROGRESSING RAPIDLY.”
- SEEMAN, LITTMANN, ET AL.

Researchers now agree that -- while we do not yet know what "causes" schizophrenia -- many pieces of the puzzle are becoming clearer. Areas of study and interest are:

  • Biochemistry

    -- People with schizophrenia appear to have a neurochemical imbalance. Thus, some researchers study the neurotransmitters that allow communication between brain cells. Modern antipsychotic medications now target three different neurotransmitter systems (dopamineserotonin, and norepinephrine.)

  • Cerebral Blood Flow

    -- With modern brain imaging techniques (PET scans), researchers can identify areas that are activated when the brain is engaged in processing information. People with schizophrenia appear to have difficulty "coordinating" activity between different areas of the brain. For example, when thinking or speaking, most people show increased activity in their frontal lobes, and a lessening of activity in the area of the brain used for listening. People with schizophrenia show the same increase in frontal lobe activity-but there is no decrease of activity ("dampening" or "filtering") in the other area. Researchers have also been able to identify specific areas of unusual activity during hallucinations.

  • Molecular Biology

    -- People with schizophrenia have an irregular pattern of certain brain cells. Since these cells are formed long before a baby is born, there is speculation that

  1. this irregular pattern may point towards a possible "cause" of schizophrenia in the prenatal period; or
  2. the pattern indicates a predisposition to acquire the disease at a later date.
  • Genetic Predisposition

    -- Genetic research continues, but has not yet identified a hereditary gene for schizophrenia. Schizophrenia does appear more regularly in some families. Then again, many people with schizophrenia have no family history of the illness.

  • Stress

    -- Stress does not cause schizophrenia. However, it has been proven that stress makes symptoms worse when the illness is already present.

  • Drug Abuse

    -- Drugs (including alcohol, tobacco, and street drugs) themselves do not cause schizophrenia. However, certain drugs can make symptoms worse or trigger a psychotic episode if a person already has schizophrenia. Drugs can also create schizophrenia-like symptoms in otherwise healthy individuals.

  • Nutritional Theories

    -- While proper nutrition is essential for the well-being of a person with the illness, it is not likely that a lack of certain vitamins causes schizophrenia. Claims that promote megavitamin therapy have not been substantiated.Some people do improve while taking vitamins. However, this can be due to concurrent use of antipsychotic medication, or to the overall therapeutic effect of a good diet, vitamin and medication regime. Or -- these individuals may be part of that group who will recover no matter what treatment is used.

  • So -- while we don't know the actual cause of schizophrenia, we do know that...

    SCHIZOPHRENIA IS:

    • A brain disease, with concrete and specific symptoms due to physical and biochemical changes in the brain
    • An illness that strikes young people in their prime -- age of onset is usually between 16 and25
    • Almost always treatable with medication
    • More common than most people think. If affects 1 in 100 people worldwide -- that's about 290,000 Canadians, including over 40,000 of our B.C. neighbours.

    SCHIZOPHRENIA IS NOT:

    • A "split personality"
    • Caused by childhood trauma, bad parenting, or poverty
    • The result of any action or personal failure by the individual.

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