What is Schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia is a long term severe mental health disorder. It involves a breakdown in the relation between thought, emotion and behaviour, leading to faulty perception, inappropriate actions and feelings, withdrawal from reality and personal relationships into fantasy and delusion. This disorder generally appears in late adolescence or early adulthood, however it can emerge at any time in life including in young children.

Although schizophrenia is not as common as other mental disorders, the symptoms can be very disabling. Contrary to belief people with schizophrenia are not violent instead they are more likely to withdraw, preferring to be alone.

What causes Schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia is an illness that can be caused by several factors including genetic, vulnerability, exposure to certain kind's of prenatal or perinatal medical problems, stress, emotional development during childhood, teenage years and drug and alcohol misuse.

Schizophrenia can also be inherited, the risk is approximately 1 in 10 for those that  have a close family member such as a mother, father, brother or sister who has a diagnosis of schizophrenia.

The Symptoms

The symptoms of schizophrenia fall into three categories: positive, negative, and cognitive.

Positive symptoms are psychotic behaviours not generally seen in healthy people. People with positive symptoms may "lose touch" with some aspects of reality. Symptoms include:

  • hallucinations

  • delusions

  • thought disorders (unusual or dysfunctional ways of thinking)

  • movement disorders (agitated body movements)

Negative symptoms are associated with disruptions to normal emotions and behaviours. Symptoms include:

  • "flat affect" (reduced expression of emotions via facial expression or voice tone)

  • reduced feelings of pleasure in everyday life

  • difficulty beginning and sustaining activities

  • reduced speaking

For some patients, the cognitive symptoms of schizophrenia are subtle, but for others, they are more severe and patients may notice changes in their memory or other aspects of thinking. Symptoms include:

  • poor "executive functioning" (the ability to understand information and use it to make decisions)

  • trouble focusing or paying attention

  • problems with "working memory" (the ability to use information immediately after learning it)

Not everyone experiences all the symptoms, everyone is different and may only have some of these symptoms. It also depends on how well controlled their symptoms are with their medication.

Self Help

Schizophrenia can be very frightening but there is help available. If you have been diagnosed with schizophrenia you will need professional help and your GP will arrange this for you. However, there are a few things you can do that will help you to feel calmer and allow you to put your lives back in order. It may mean changing a few things to avoid stressful situations. These can be:

  • having a routine and sticking to it

  • having things to do and do them in your own pace

  • join a club or group, get involved with the group i.e. become a volunteer

  • reduce your alcohol intake

Treatment

The most important thing is to get the correct diagnosis. It is then important that you see a psychiatrist with experience in the treatment of schizophrenia. For this to happen you must first start by going to see your GP.

Medication is a vital 1st step; it can be very effective combining it with other help including support from friends and family members. Like most mental health illnesses schizophrenia can be treated best by a combination of medication and other forms of help including counselling and psychotherapy and Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

Doctors usually prescribe antipsychotic drugs (also known as neuroleptic drugs or major tranquillisers) to control the 'positive' symptoms of schizophrenia.

Not everybody finds antipsychotics helpful and they can cause unpleasant side effects. If you find the medication helps your symptoms, you may feel it is worth putting up with them, but some people find them harder to cope with than their symptoms and decide to come off them.

Different drugs may affect you in different ways, so you might need to try one or two types before you find the one that suits you best.

Medication is not a cure but it can ease or take away severe symptoms and help you in the recovery process.

Recovery

There has been tremendous progress in treating schizophrenia over the past few years. The development of new treatment is helping to improve the quality of life for those diagnosed with schizophrenia.

Recover is a lifelong progress and you will need to work towards your goals, learn to manage your symptoms and develop the support you need.

Your aim is to relieve current symptoms, prevent future psychotic episodes and restore your ability to function and enjoy your life.

Schizophrenia is treatable but there is no cure however it can be managed.

NHS Choices - Schizophrenia