for better mental health

Schizophrenia

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 causes schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia can have a range of causes. There is a lot that researchers still don't know and it is likely to be caused by a combination of genetic, personal and environmental factors. These factors will be different for everybody but may include:

Stressful life events

Highly stressful or life-changing events may sometimes trigger schizophrenia. These can include:

Sometimes stressful events like these are called trauma. For more information on how these experiences can affect your mental health see our pages on trauma.

"The onset of schizophrenia for me was sudden and dramatic, though it followed a period of depression and acute stress. A really compelling and powerful voice started to try to control me."

Drug and alcohol use

Some people may develop symptoms of schizophrenia after using cannabis or other recreational drugs. Researchers still aren't sure whether using recreational drugs directly causes schizophrenia, or if people who develop schizophrenia are more likely to use recreational drugs.

If you already have schizophrenia, research shows that using recreational drugs may worsen your symptoms. Some studies suggest that people who use high-potency cannabis ('skunk') when in recovery are more likely to have a relapse too.

Drinking alcohol and smoking may also stop medication from effectively treating your symptoms.

See our pages on recreational drugs and alcohol for more information.

Genetic inheritance

You are more likely to have schizophrenia if you have a parent or sibling who has experienced psychosis. Researchers aren't yet sure why but they think that some genes might make it more likely.

Living in certain environments seems to increase your risk of schizophrenia too. For example, some studies suggest that living in cities increases the likelihood, but researchers don't yet know why.

Differences in brain chemistry

Studies show that people can be more likely to experience schizophrenia if their brain development was disrupted during pregnancy or early childhood. Changes in brain structure do not appear in everyone with schizophrenia though.

Some chemicals also seem to behave differently in the brains of people who experience schizophrenia. These chemicals are thought to include dopamine, which helps to carry messages between brain cells.

Some research suggests that an imbalance between certain neurotransmitters, including dopamine and serotonin, may be one of the causes behind schizophrenia.

Antipsychotics, which are sometimes used to treat schizophrenia, can help to lower dopamine levels.

For more information see our pages on antipsychotics.

"More recently my physical health has deteriorated. I have become more agoraphobic and find group settings harder than before."

This information was published in November 2020. We will revise it in 2023.

References are available on request. If you would like to reproduce any of this information, see our page on permissions and licensing.

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