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Last updated Friday, 17th Dec 2010

Schizophrenia is a serious mental illness that causes people to experience symptoms such as seeing or hearing things that other people can’t see or hear and believing things which seem unusual and other people do not think are real. An episode of schizophrenia can last for several weeks and can be very frightening. Most people diagnosed with schizophrenia are prescribed medicine which can help them manage the unpleasant and sometimes frightening symptoms they are experiencing.

People with schizophrenia do not have a split or dual personality. People with schizophrenia are more likely to be a victim of violent crime than to act violently themselves.

What causes schizophrenia?

The exact causes of schizophrenia are not fully known but it seems that there are changes in the chemicals in the brain when people experience an episode of schizophrenia. People are more at risk of developing schizophrenia if other family members have a diagnosis. Stressful experiences and some recreational drugs are thought to trigger episodes in some people.

Who is affected by schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia can affect men and women from all countries, cultures, backgrounds and walks of life. About 1 in 100 people will have one episode of schizophrenia in their lifetime. In men the condition often begins between the ages of 15-30 years. In women it is usually between 25-30 years. People are more at risk of developing schizophrenia if a family member already has a diagnosis. About a third of people diagnosed with schizophrenia only ever have one experience, while another third may have occasional episodes. A third of people diagnosed live with schizophrenia as an ongoing condition.

‘All the time I could hear people talking about me. They would say horrible things about me and about the people I was with. It never stopped and it was very frightening. I just wanted them to leave me alone.’

What are the signs or symptoms of schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia affects different people in different ways. Doctors divide the symptoms into two groups which they call positive symptoms and negative symptoms.

Positive symptoms describe the range of unusual experiences people may have, such as:

  • hearing, seeing, smelling or feeling things which other people do not hear, see, smell or feel (known as hallucinations)
  • having unusual beliefs such as believing you have extraordinary powers or abilities or that you are someone else – sometimes an important person like a king or queen (known as delusions)
  • feeling you are being controlled by others or being spied upon or thoughts are being put into your head. These experiences can be very frightening and it can also be very frustrating if no one else believes you because the experiences feel very real.

Negative symptoms include things like feeling depressed, lacking energy and finding it difficult to concentrate.

Self-assessment tools

There are a number of questionnaires which have been designed to help people decide whether or not they have problems with their mental health that are available on the internet free of charge. There does not seem to be a questionnaire to help you determine if you are experiencing schizophrenia type symptoms available on the internet, but a tool is under development by a team at Yale University in America. This should be available from April. We will provide a link to this questionnaire when it is available.

What should I do if I think I have schizophrenia?

In the first instance you could go and see your GP. You may want to tell him or her how you have been feeling and what impact this is having on your life – and those around you. Your GP may refer you to a psychiatrist for assessment. There is more information about the help that may be offered to you in the help and support section of this website. 

What can help with schizophrenia?

There are many things that can help you treat and manage your schizophrenia. These include:

  • getting help as early as possible. Research shows that people make a better recovery from schizophrenia if they receive help at the earlier stages of the condition.
  • medicines (also known as medication or prescribed drugs) such as risperidone, olanzapine, quetiapin, amisulpride and zotepin, can help you control some of the ‘positive’ symptoms of schizophrenia. There is more information about medicines that can help with schizophrenia on the websites of the national mental health charities, Mind and Rethink.
  • psychological therapies such as psychotherapy, counselling, cognitive behavioural therapy and relationship or family therapy. There is more information about this type of help in the psychological therapies section of this website.
  • getting support and sharing experiences with other people living with schizophrenia.
  • learning as much as possible about the condition and how it affects you. This could include how to recognize that you might need help. It can be useful to do this together with family members and others who are involved in supporting you. There are a number of useful books and websites which provide information and support. 
  • looking after yourself and trying to lead a healthy lifestyle by eating well, keeping active and getting enough sleep.
  • finding ways to reduce the amount of stress in your life and trying to avoid the things which might trigger an episode.
  • making changes to your life to increase your sense of wellbeing.

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