Explains schizophrenia, including possible causes and how you can access treatment and support. Includes tips for helping yourself, and guidance for friends and family.
What is schizophrenia?
Schizophrenia is a complicated mental health problem related to psychosis. There's lots of misconceptions about it. Even mental health professionals don't all agree about it. But the reality is that about 1 in every 100 people get this diagnosis at some point in their life.
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Many experiences and behaviours can be part of schizophrenia. They can start suddenly, or they might develop gradually over time.
Each person's experience is unique. A doctor might suggest you have schizophrenia if you experience some of the following:
- a lack of interest in things
- feeling disconnected from your emotions
- difficulty concentrating
- wanting to avoid people
- hallucinations, such as hearing voices or seeing things others don't
- delusions (strong beliefs that others don't share), including paranoid delusions
- disorganised thinking and speech
- not wanting to look after yourself.
Hallucinations and delusions are types of psychosis.
I have bizarre delusions which include psychic battles in which people around me can be perceived as either 'good' or 'evil'. Sometimes I am in a different time zone or move between periods of history in different lives.
You might also find that you:
- aren't able to carry on with day-to-day activities, like going to work or taking care of yourself
- become upset, confused or suspicious of other people or particular groups (like strangers, or people in authority)
- disagree with people who think something is wrong
- feel worried or afraid of seeking help.
Sometimes I feel thoughts are being put in my head and that people are reading my thoughts.
What's it like living with schizophrenia?
Watch Miles talk about his experience of living with schizophrenia.
Diagnosing schizophrenia is complicated - there's no straightforward test for it. And views on this diagnosis have been changing over the years. Many people think that it may actually be several overlapping conditions, rather than one single condition.
If you're experiencing symptoms, it's a good idea to start by talking to your doctor. They may refer you to a mental health specialist, who can assess you by asking you questions. Most people diagnosed with schizophrenia are aged between 18 and 35. It seems to affect roughly the same number of men and women.
Read more about how mental health problems are diagnosed.
Some people argue that because there isn't a clear definition of schizophrenia, doctors shouldn't use this term at all. Especially because this diagnosis can feel stigmatising.
Others think that the name of the condition doesn't matter - what matters more is finding ways to help people with their individual symptoms and needs.
If you've been given this diagnosis, it might help to think of it as a tool for treating what you're currently experiencing. Not as a definite condition or label that you will have to live with forever.
There are also several other conditions that share many of the same symptoms of schizophrenia. These include:
- schizoaffective disorder
- some types of personality disorders (specifically schizotypal and schizoid personality disorder)
- bipolar disorder.
It's also possible to experience an episode of psychosis (one of the most common symptoms of schizophrenia) without having any particular condition.
So doctors might find it hard to decide which diagnosis best fits your specific experiences. It's also possible to have more than one diagnosis at once.
If you're worried that your schizophrenia diagnosis doesn't match how you feel, it's important to discuss it with your mental health team.
See our pages on seeking help for a mental health problem and advocacy for more information on how to make sure your voice is heard and what you can do if you're not happy with your doctor or diagnosis.
What was real and what was not? I couldn't tell the difference any longer and it was exhausting.
Talking about schizophrenia
Watch Alice, Brian, Jamie, Martin and Louise talk about their experiences of living with schizophrenia.
More recently my symptoms have included voices outside my head, feelings that people are talking about me and spying on me.
There's lots of misinformation in the media about schizophrenia. Stories in the news and on TV shows are often sensationalised and misleading.
The truth is:
- It does not mean someone has a 'split personality'. This is a term that does not accurately describe schizophrenia. The symptoms of schizophrenia relate more to someone's experiences than their personality.
- It does not mean that someone is dangerous or violent. Most people with schizophrenia do not commit violent crimes. Some research suggests that the risk may be slightly higher among people who have this diagnosis than people who don't. But it's not clear that schizophrenia is the cause. Evidence shows that factors like drug and alcohol misuse are far more likely to play a part in violence. People with schizophrenia are more likely to be victims of crime – or to harm themselves – than to harm someone else.
It can be really upsetting to encounter negative attitudes. But there are things you can do. Read more about tackling stigma and misconceptions around mental health problems.
The stigma of being violent and dangerous is the worst for me. I am a caring and empathetic soul who would do anything for the people I love.
Published: November 2020
Page amended: September 2021
Review planned: 2023
References and bibliography available on request.
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