Schizophrenia : key facts
How does it feel to have this disorder?
What is schizophrenia?
It is a condition which affects thinking,
feeling and behaviour and causes people to have abnormal
experiences. It is most likely to start between the ages of 15 to 35 and will
affect about 1 in every 100 people during their lifetime.
What schizophrenia is not
Schizophrenia is not a split personality.
Many people think that schizophrenia makes
people violent. This is the exception, not the rule. People with
schizophrenia are more likely to be victims of violence by
Hospital admission is often not needed and
many people with schizophrenia live a stable life, work, and have
What causes schizophrenia?
It seems to be a combination of factors.
Genes, perhaps slight brain damage at birth or during
pregnancy, childhood abuse. Street drugs (ecstasy, LSD,
amphetamines and crack) seem to trigger it. Stress and family
tensions make it worse.
What are the symptoms of schizophrenia?
- Hallucinations - hearing,
smelling, feeling or seeing something that isn’t there. Hearing
voices is the most common problem. These can seem utterly
real. The voices can be pleasant, but they are more often
rude, critical, abusive or annoying.
- Delusions - believing
something completely even though others find your ideas strange and
can't work out how you've come to believe them.
- Difficulty thinking – you
find it hard to concentrate and tend to drift from one idea to
another. Other people can find it hard to understand you.
- Feeling controlled – you may
feel that your thoughts are vanishing, or that they are not your
own, or that your body is being taken over and controlled by
- Loss of interest, energy and emotions.
- You may not bother to get up or go out of the
- You don't get round to routine jobs like
washing, tidying, or looking after your clothes.
- You may feel uncomfortable with other
Most people have a mixture of positive and
negative symptoms. If someone just has negative symptoms. the
problem may not be recognised for years.
Treatments that can help
Can treatment help?
The earlier you get help, the better the
outlook - and there is less need for hospital treatment.
This helps to weaken any delusions and
hallucinations. It should also help you to think more clearly and
to look after yourself better. It can help in around 4 out of
5 people. It works best when taken regularly, even when you have
felt better for some time. We are not sure how they work, but most
of them reduce the action of a chemical in the brain called
'dopamine'. Like all medicines, they do have side-effects,
especially at higher doses:
- They can all cause tiredness and sexual
- One group (eg. chlorpromazine, haloperidol
and zuclopenthixol) can also cause stiffness, shakes and
- A different group (eg. olanzapine,
risperidone and quetiapine) have less effect on the muscles, but
they can cause weight gain and diabetes.
- Cognitive Behavioural Therapy can help you
to cope with your experiences and to work out if
there are things you do, or habits of thinking that make you
unwell. You can then find new ways of thinking or behaving that
help you to stay well.
- Family therapy can help you and your family
cope better with the illness. In the sessions, you learn about the
condition, ways to support someone with schizophrenia, and how
to solve some of the practical problems that can arise.
Social Support and Recovery
- Day centres - offer classes, advice about
education and employment, and a place to spend time with other
- Work projects - they will support you in
getting back to work.
- Art therapies - to help you express yourself.
- Supported accommodation – staff on-site or
visiting, it can help you gain confidence in living
- A community mental health team
or key-worker can support you, both with practical advice and
with treatment. Occupational therapists can help you develop skills
for living, working and getting on with other people.
How to help yourself
- Learn to recognise the signs that you are
getting unwell – these signs might be going off your food, feeling
anxious or sleeping badly. Someone you trust may be able to warn
you if they see you becoming unwell.
- Try to avoid getting too stressed, or using
alcohol to feel better. Make sure you are able to do things that
- Try to keep healthy - eat well, don't smoke
and keep fit.
- Street drugs should be avoided. However much you might like
them, they will make you worse.
Helping someone else
It can be hard to understand what is
happening. The person you know starts to behave differently, avoids
other people and become less active. If they have delusions, they
won't always talk about them. If they are hearing voices, they may
suddenly look away from you as they listen to the voice. When you
speak to them, they may say little, or be difficult to
A person with schizophrenia can be more
sensitive to stress, so you can help by avoiding arguments and
Can I talk to the mental health team?
If you are caring for your relative, you
should be able to get information from healthcare professionals.
They can advise on psychological treatments, drugs and
side-effects, and can suggest ways to help recovery.
For more in-depth information see our main leaflet: Schizophrenia
This leaflet reflects the most up-to-date evidence at the time
Produced by the RCPsych Public Education Editorial Board.
Series Editor: Dr Philip Timms
Reviewed by Dr Michael Yousif
© February 2014. Due for review: February 2016. Royal
College of Psychiatrists. This leaflet may be downloaded,
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Please note that we are unable to offer advice on individual cases. Please see our
advice on getting help.
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