- Mental Health Conditions
- Current: Schizophrenia
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This section covers what schizophrenia is, what the symptoms are and how you can get treatment. It's for you if you have experienced schizophrenia yourself, or if you care for someone who does.
· You can get medication and psychological treatments for schizophrenia.
Schizophrenia is a mental illness which affects the way you think. The symptoms may affect how you cope with day to day life.
You could be diagnosed with schizophrenia if you experience some of the following symptoms.
Everyone is different. Not everyone with schizophrenia will get all of these symptoms.
Schizophrenia is a common illness. About one in a hundred people will develop schizophrenia. It can develop during young adulthood. The early stage of the illness is called ‘the prodromal phase’. During this phase your sleep, emotions, motivation, communication and ability to think clearly may change.
If you become unwell this is called an ‘acute episode’. You may feel panic, anger or depression during an acute episode. Your first acute episode can be a shocking experience because you are not expecting it or prepared for it.
There are some myths or mistaken beliefs about schizophrenia which come from the media.
A common myth is that schizophrenia means that people have multiple or split personalities. This is not the case. The mistake may come from the fact that the name 'schizophrenia' comes from two Greek words meaning 'split' and 'mind'.
Research shows that only a small number of people with the illness may become violent, much in the same way as a small minority of the general public may become violent. People with a diagnosis of schizophrenia are more likely to be a danger to themselves than to other people. But as these incidents can be shocking, the media often report them in a way which emphasises the mental health aspects. This can create fear and stigma in the general public.
There are no blood tests or scans that can prove if you have schizophrenia. Only a psychiatrist can diagnose you after a full psychiatric assessment. Psychiatrists use manuals to diagnose mental illnesses. The main manuals used by doctors are the:
Doctors in the UK use the ICD-10.
The manuals explain which symptoms should be present, and for how long.Your symptoms need to last for a least one month before your doctor can diagnose you. They may say you have a psychotic disorder or psychosis before they diagnose you with schizophrenia.
Sometimes the symptoms of schizophrenia are described as positive symptoms or negative symptoms. This does not mean that they are good or bad.
‘Positive’ symptoms are experienced in addition to reality. ‘Negative’ symptoms can effect your ability to function.
The terms ‘positive symptoms’ and ‘psychosis’ are generally used to describe the same symptoms. The following are positive symptoms.
These are experiences that are not real or that other people do not experience. Hallucinations can affect all of your senses which are:
Hearing voices or other sounds is the most common hallucination. Hearing voices is different for everyone.
For example, voices may be:
You might hear voices every now and then or all of the time.
Delusions are fixed beliefs which do not match up to the way other people see the world. You may not be able to find evidence for or against your belief, and you may look for ways to prove the way you see things.
Delusions may include believing different things such as the following:
You may feel overwhelmed and act differently due to your beliefs.
Another symptom is ‘disorganised thinking’. This means you might start talking quickly or slowly. The things you say might not make sense to other people. You may switch topics without any obvious link. This is sometimes known as ‘word salad’.
A diagnosis of schizophrenia does not mean that you will have all these symptoms. The way that your illness affects you will depend on the type of schizophrenia that you have. For example, not everyone with this diagnosis will have hallucinations or confused thinking.
These are symptoms that involve loss of ability and enjoyment in life. They can include the following things.
Another negative symptom is cognitive impairment. This means that your mind is affected in a negative way.
Cognitive experiences are ones that relate to mental action; such as learning, remembering and functioning.
Some cognitive experiences are associated with schizophrenia are:
Negative symptoms are much less dramatic than positive symptoms. They may last longer, and stay after positive symptoms fade away. Many people with schizophrenia feel that the negative symptoms of their illness are more serious and impact on their life more than the positive symptoms. Negative symptoms can vary in severity.
You can find more information about psychosis here.
There are different kinds of schizophrenia. The International Classification of Diseases (ICD-10) manual describes them as below.
Your diagnosis may have some signs of paranoid, hebephrenic or catatonic schizophrenia, but doesn’t obviously fit into one of these types alone.
You may be diagnosed with this if you have a history of psychosis but only have negative symptoms.
Symptoms meet the general conditions for a diagnosis, but do not fit in to any of the above categories.
If you’ve just been diagnosed with schizophrenia, you might have a lot of complicated feelings. You can read more on how to cope with them here.
Nobody knows exactly what causes schizophrenia, it is likely to be the result of several factors. For example: brain chemistry, genetics, birth complications can cause schizophrenia. Some people can develop the illness as a result of a stressful event, such as the death of a loved one or the loss of a job. Experiences like growing up in a town or city, stressful life events and moving to new a new town or country can also trigger symptoms of psychosis and schizophrenia. There is a strong link between the use of strong cannabis and the development of schizophrenia..
There isn’t a cure for schizophrenia. This may be because the causes of the illness are not fully understood. You may find that you need to continue treatment to keep well.
Up to 3 in 10 people with schizophrenia may have a lasting recovery, and 1 in 5 people may show significant improvement. Around half of people diagnosed with schizophrenia will continue to have it as a long-term illness. Everyone’s experience of schizophrenia is different. It may get better then worse, involve further episodes of being unwell, or may be more constant.
You need to find the right treatment for you. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommends that you should be offered a combination of medication and talking therapies.
Your doctor may offer you medication known as an ‘antipsychotic’. These reduce the symptoms of schizophrenia, but do not cure the illness. Your healthcare professionals should work with you to help choose a medication. If you want, your carer can also help you make the decision. Doctors should explain the benefits and side effects of each drug.
In the past, antipsychotics had negative side effects. Some people find that the side effects of newer antipsychotic drugs are easier to manage.
If you have been on an antipsychotic for a few weeks and the side effects are too difficult to cope with, you should ask your doctor about trying a different one. NICE state that people who have not responded to at least 2 other antipsychotic drugs should be offered clozapine.
Your medication should be reviewed at least once a year. Find out more about medications on our medications page.
Your doctor should offer you psychosocial treatments. These treatments help you to look at how your thoughts and behaviour are influenced by the people and society you live in. This can include the following.
Find out more about therapy on our Therapy page.
Early intervention teams are specialist services which provide treatment and support for people when they first experience psychosis and schizophrenia. They are usually made up of psychiatrists, psychologists, mental health nurses, social workers and support workers.
Your doctor should refer you to an early intervention team when they diagnose you with a first episode of psychosis. NICE suggests that you should start treatment within 2 weeks of referral. Early intervention services operate differently across the country. If there is not a service in your area, then you should have access to a crisis or home treatment team.
Self care and management skills can help you to understand and overcome symptoms of schizophrenia. Your health or social worker may offer to support you with self management. You may also be offered training and peer support from people who have recovered from schizophrenia. All these people can help you to manage your symptoms by caring for yourself.
Self care focuses on:
You can also learn about the following.
Find out more about how to help yourself.
This page on NI Direct outlines how to get further support if:
You can also complain if you are not happy. Find out more about how to complain on NI Direct.
You might find an advocate helpful if you are unhappy with your treatment. Advocacy can help you understand the mental health system and allow you to be involved in decisions about your care. An advocate is independent from mental health services. They can help to make your voice heard when you are trying to sort out problems. They might help you write letters or support you in appointments and meetings.
You should talk to your doctor about your treatment first and see if you can resolve the situation with them. You can mention the NICE guidelines if you feel they are not offering you the right treatment.
If your doctor does not think of any other treatment options you could ask for a second opinion. You are not legally entitled to a second opinion but your doctor might agree to it if it would help with treatment options.
Can I recover from schizophrenia?
There are 2 different meanings for recovery. However, they may overlap. These are:
Your doctor might have talked to you about ‘recovery’. Some doctors and health professionals think of recovery as no longer having mental health symptoms. Sometimes this is called ‘clinical recovery’. Dealing with symptoms is important to a lot of people. But we think recovery is wider than this, we call it ‘personal recovery.’
Personal recovery means that you are able to live a meaningful life. What you want to in your life will be different to what someone else wants to do with their life. Don’t be afraid to think about what you would like to do and work towards that goal.
Below are some ways you can think of recovery.
Recovery is an ongoing process. It is normal to have difficulties or setbacks along the way. You could describe yourself as ‘recovered’ at any stage in your recovery if you feel things are better than they were before.
Find out more about recovery.
Research shows that people with schizophrenia have an average life expectancy that is 10 to 15 years shorter than people without the condition. They are at higher risk of having a range of health issues such as being overweight, having heart disease and diabetes. This may be due to genetic factors, lifestyle choices (such as smoking and diet) or side effects from medication. Because of these issues, NICE recommends that when you start taking antipsychotic medication, your doctor should do a full range of physical health checks. This should include weight, blood pressure and other blood tests. These checks should be repeated regularly.
Mental health professionals are responsible for doing these checks for the first year of treatment. Responsibility may then pass to your GP. Your doctor or mental health team should offer you a programme which combines healthy eating and physical. You should be given help to stop smoking with support from a healthcare professional.
The risk of suicide is increased for people with schizophrenia.
Research has found that the increased risk is not usually because of psychotic symptoms. The risk is associated more with negative symptoms and low mood. Key risk factors include:
As a carer, friend or family member of someone living with schizophrenia, you might find that you also need support. Caring for someone with schizophrenia can be challenging. Due to stigma, the illness isn’t talked about much. People with the illness as well as their friends and family members, can feel quite isolated
Whether you are a carer, friend or family member of someone living with schizophrenia you can get support. Read our, “Supporting someone with a mental health issue” page which gives some helpful tips on looking after yourself.
You can ask your local authority for a carer’s assessment if you need more practical and financial support to help care for someone. As a carer you should be involved in decisions about care planning. There are rules about information sharing and confidentiality which you need to be aware of.
You might find it easier to support someone with schizophrenia if you understand their symptoms, treatment and self management skills. You can use this information to support and encourage them to get help and stay well.
Someone with schizophrenia will often not realise that they are unwell until they get treatment. It can be difficult to persuade someone to see a doctor if they don’t think that there is anything wrong with them.
You should also be aware of what you can do if you are worried about someone’s mental state or risk of self harm. You should have details of the crisis plan which you can discuss with mental health professionals.
If you think the person's symptoms mean they're a risk to themselves: