The symptoms of schizophrenia are generally divided into three categories: Positive, Negative, and Cognitive.
Positive Symptoms, or “psychotic” symptoms, include delusions and hallucinations because the patient has lost touch with reality in certain important ways. “Positive” refers to having overt symptoms that should not be there. Delusions cause individuals to believe that people are reading their thoughts or plotting against them, that others are secretly monitoring and threatening them, or that they can control other people’s minds. Hallucinations cause people to hear or see things that are not present.
Negative Symptoms include emotional flatness or lack of expression, an inability to start and follow through with activities, speech that is brief and devoid of content, and a lack of pleasure or interest in life. “Negative” does not refer to a person’s attitude but to a lack of certain characteristics that should be there.
Cognitive Symptoms pertain to thinking processes. For example, people may have difficulty with prioritizing tasks, certain kinds of memory functions, and organizing their thoughts. A common problem associated with schizophrenia is the lack of insight into the condition itself. This is not a willful denial but rather a part of the mental illness itself. Such a lack of understanding, of course, poses many challenges for loved ones seeking better care for the person with schizophrenia.
Schizophrenia also affects mood. While many individuals affected with schizophrenia become depressed, some also have apparent mood swings and even bipolar-like states. When mood instability is a major feature of the illness, it is called schizoaffective disorder, meaning that elements of schizophrenia and mood disorders are prominently displayed by the same individual.