Schizophrenia is a severe mental disorder characterised by fundamental disturbances in thinking, perception and emotions. More than 100 years of research have not been able to fully resolve the puzzle that schizophrenia represents. Even if schizophrenia is not a very frequent disease, it is among the most burdensome and costly illnesses worldwide. It usually starts in young adulthood. Life expectancy is reduced by approximately 10 years, mostly as a consequence of suicide. Even if the course of the illness today is considered more favourable than it was originally described, it is still only a minority of those affected, who fully recover. The cumulative lifetime risk for men and women is similar, although it is higher for men in the age group younger than 40 years. According to the Global Burden of Disease Study, schizophrenia causes a high degree of disability, which accounts for 1.1% of the total DALYs (disability-adjusted life years) and 2.8% of YLDs (years lived with disability). In the World Health Report [The WHO World Health Report: new understanding, new hope, 2001. Geneva], schizophrenia is listed as the 8th leading cause of DALYs worldwide in the age group 15-44 years. In addition to the direct burden, there is considerable burden on the relatives who care for the sufferers. The treatment goals for the moment are to identify the illness as early as possible, treat the symptoms, provide skills to patients and their families, maintain the improvement over a period of time, prevent relapses and reintegrate the ill persons into the community so that they can lead as normal a life as possible. © 2005 Elsevier B.V. and ECNP. All rights reserved.
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