What is schizophrenia

Schizophrenia is a diagnosis you may be given if you experience some of the following symptoms:

  • a lack of interest in things
  • feeling disconnected from your feelings
  • difficulty concentrating
  • wanting to avoid people
  • Hallucinations
  • hearing voices
  • Delusions
  • feeling like you need to be protected

“What was real and what was not? I couldn’t tell the difference any longer and it was exhausting.”

“For me, the paranoia is the worst. It is very real and frightening.”

For some people these experiences or beliefs can start happening quite suddenly, but for others they can occur more gradually. You may become upset, anxious, confused and suspicious of other people, particularly anyone who doesn’t agree with your perceptions. You may be unaware or reluctant to believe that you need help.

“I was finding it difficult to talk. The words in my mind just would not come out.”

Delusions, hearing voices and hallucinations are all types of psychosis. See Mind’s booklets Understanding psychosis (online), Understanding paranoia and How to cope with hearing voices for more information.

Positive and negative symptoms

You may hear professionals talk about positive or negative symptoms. This is just a way that people group the symptoms of schizophrenia.

  • Positive symptoms – things that most people do not normally experience, for example strange thinking, hallucinations and delusions.
  • Negative symptoms – when you lack some emotional responses or thought processes that most people normally experience, for example lack of motivation.

Impact on day-to-day life

The symptoms of schizophrenia can be disruptive and have an impact on your ability to carry on with day-to-day tasks, such as going to work, maintaining relationships with other people, caring for yourself or for others.

Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) can help you to deal with this added stress and to develop ways of managing your symptoms. You might also find it helpful to talk and share coping tips with other people in the same situation. See  ‘Useful contacts’ for organisations that can help you find groups like this in your area.

Schizophrenia and stigma

There is more media misinformation about schizophrenia than about any other type of mental health problem. A diagnosis of schizophrenia does not mean ‘split personality’, or indicate that someone will swing wildly from being calm to being out of control.

Sensational stories in the press tend to present people with schizophrenia as dangerous, even though most people diagnosed with schizophrenia don’t commit violent crimes. We often think that people who hear voices are dangerous, but actually voices are more likely to suggest that you harm yourself than someone else. It’s important to remember that people also have a choice in whether they do what the voices say.

Diagnoses related to schizophrenia

There are several diagnoses that share many of the same symptoms.

  • For more information on schizoaffective disorder, see Mind’s booklet Understanding schizoaffective disorder
  • For information on schizotypal personality disorder or schizoid personality disorder, see Understanding personality disorders

Different views about diagnosis

Views on schizophrenia have changed over the years. Lots of people have questioned whether schizophrenia is actually one condition or if it might actually be a few different conditions that overlap. Some people say that what the condition is called doesn’t matter and that it would be more helpful to focus on relieving specific symptoms and individual needs.

Other people argue that because psychiatric experts can’t agree on the definition, causes or suitable treatments for schizophrenia, it shouldn’t be used as a diagnostic category at all.

The reality is that many people are still diagnosed with schizophrenia. If you are one of them, it might be helpful to think of a diagnosis more as a tool for treating what you’re currently experiencing, rather than a definite condition or label that you will have to live with forever.




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