Schizophrenia is a chronic, disabling brain disorder that affects about 1 percent of Americans, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). Although experiences and behaviors vary from person to person, the mental illness is most often characterized by impaired perception and/or expression of reality.

Experts believe that almost anyone can be diagnosed with schizophrenia. The disease strikes men and women equally and occurs at similar rates in ethnic groups around the world. What's more, schizophrenia can manifest at any time, though psychotic symptoms usually emerge in late adolescence or young adulthood.

Spotting the Signs

According to the NIMH, schizophrenia symptoms generally fall into three broad categories:

Negative symptoms. These represent an impaired ability to initiate plans, speak, express emotion, or experience pleasure in daily life. These symptoms are often harder to recognize as part of the disorder and can be mistaken for laziness or depression.

Cognitive Symptoms. Also known as cognitive deficits, these are problems with attention, certain types of memory, and the functions that enable planning and organization. Cognitive deficits can also be difficult to recognize as part of the disorder but can be the most disabling in terms of leading a normal life.

If you suspect that you or a loved one is exhibiting symptoms of schizophrenia, it's important to contact a mental health professional as soon as possible. As with any disease, spotting the symptoms and getting an accurate diagnosis are the first steps toward treatment.