A background sketch

Schizophrenia is a type of psychosis and may be regarded as an illness that concerns some of the functions within the brain. As with other illnesses one may eventually get better or one may continue to function under par.

To ask about its cause first raises the question of how it develops. It may break out in adolescence and is most likely to appear in a person's early 20s. In many cases, there may be someone in the family who has been psychotic before, but for a large number of people who fall ill in this way there are no indicators of a "familial contribution". Even in familial cases, the contribution seems likely to arise from a number of features, each of which only makes the person vulnerable, if other things go wrong. These other things could include the person's perception of intermittent and long-lasting stress or occasionally accidental events that affect development (e.g., the mother catching influenza [but not other illnesses] in late pregnancy). Much research is being carried out at the moment into those features that may have adversely affected the development of the brain ("neurodevelopment") in patients who later had schizophrenia.

The first signs, usually only noticed in looking back on events, are likely to include an unexpected withdrawal of the degree or type of contact that the person used to have with family or school. The person seems less capable of of dealing with "minor" stresses in the accustomed way. This may develop to an extreme over months or years (sometimes termed negative symptoms). Alternatively, the person may develop elaborate constructions to interpret the world, as they see it, which may reflect matters that are only in their mind (sometimes termed productive or positive symptoms, that, in the extreme, can take the form of delusions or auditory hallucinations). Often the latter do not last a long time, especially if the person seeks assistance.

Seen in this way it seems very reasonable to concentrate research into how the brain processes the information it receives from outside and how one part of the brain processes information it receives from another part. Problems with the former can lead to misinterpreting and exaggerating parts of the external world that is perceived. Problems with the latter can lead to one part of the mind not being accurately informed about what another part is doing. The question of what factors trigger these changes show how important it is to understand better the responses of the body and brain to stress (biology and hormones) and factors affecting the brain and "neuro-development".

see useful links on schizophrenia - half-way down the co-operation page