Schizophrenia

Doctors often describe schizophrenia as a type of psychosis. This means you might not be able to tell the difference between your thoughts and reality.

It’s becoming more common for the term ‘psychosis’ to be used, so you may be given a diagnosis of psychosis rather than schizophrenia. NICE – the organisation that produces guidelines for healthcare professionals – now refers to them both as a single category.

What are the symptoms of schizophrenia?

During an episode of schizophrenia, the way you see and understand the outside world is disrupted. You may:

  • lose touch with reality
  • see or hear things that are not there
  • hold irrational, paranoid or unusual beliefs not based on reality
  • appear to act strangely because you’re responding to these delusions and hallucinations

Schizophrenia is one of the most common serious mental health conditions. Around 1 in 100 people will have one episode of schizophrenia, and two thirds of these will go on to have further episodes. Schizophrenia usually starts in your late teens or early 20s.

Some people need a great deal of help in managing the symptoms of schizophrenia. Others find ways to cope with experiences such as hearing voices and don’t necessarily want to receive any treatment.

What causes schizophrenia?

The exact cause of schizophrenia is unknown, but most experts think it’s linked to genetic and environmental factors. Stressful experiences and some recreational drugs can also trigger an episode in vulnerable people.

Misconceptions about schizophrenia

There are many common misconceptions about schizophrenia.

Myth: schizophrenia means ‘split personality’

Fact: People with schizophrenia don’t have a split personality or multiple personalities. The name was meant to describe the ‘split’ from reality you can experience with psychosis.

Myth: people with schizophrenia are dangerous

Fact: Most people with schizophrenia aren’t violent: in fact, they’re more likely to be victims of violence. They’re also more likely to harm themselves than others.

Myth: schizophrenia can’t be treated

Fact: People with schizophrenia may need long-term support, but the condition can be treated. Some people find most of their symptoms get better, while others find they stop for a long time or never come back. Some people find ways to live with the condition long-term.

Getting support

Schizophrenia is often treated with a combination of talking therapy and medication: usually cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and antipsychotic medication. You may also receive help from social services or a community mental health team.

Talking therapy

There are different talking therapies that can help with schizophrenia.

CBT can help you manage symptoms such as hearing voices or delusions. It can also help normalise psychosis and make it less frightening – for example, by explaining that hearing voices is common or that there are times when we can all feel paranoid. Normalising these experiences can reduce your stress and remove any stigma you may feel.

Art therapy can help you express how you feel and come to terms with traumatic experiences you may have faced.

Family intervention can help you and your family cope better with your condition. It can help you all learn more about your symptoms, improve your communication and help you support each other.

Medication

Antipsychotic medication can help reduce the symptoms of schizophrenia. You should work together with your doctor to find the right antipsychotic for you. They can cause side effects and you should tell your doctor if they become severe. There may be a different antipsychotic you can try or other medications you can take to help with the side effects.

You may take antipsychotics for a short time or need to take them long-term.

Ways you can look after yourself

Be aware of the warning signs

Learning to spot the early signs of becoming unwell can prevent you having a relapse. Signs can include losing your appetite, not sleeping well or feeling anxious. You may develop mild symptoms such as hearing quiet voices, feeling suspicious, or finding it hard to concentrate. Tell someone you trust or your doctor or support worker if you notice any early signs so that you can get help to avoid a relapse.

Plan ahead

When you’re unwell, it may be difficult or impossible to tell people how you’d like to be treated. It can help to plan ahead by writing an advance statement to help friends, family and medical professionals make decisions on your behalf.

You could also make a crisis card, a small document you can carry in your pocket or wallet explaining what to do and who to contact if you’re unable to communicate.

Look after your physical health

Try to eat wellexercise, get enough sleep, stop smoking and avoid stress where you can.

Find peer support

Peer support – where you talk to other people who have the same diagnosis or symptoms as you – can help you feel less alone, increase your self-esteem and share ways of coping. The Hearing Voices Network runs support groups for people who experience voices, visions or other sensory experiences.

Learn more about the Hearing Voices Network

* Last updated: 14 October 2021