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
  • Delusions
  • Disorganised thinking and speech
  • Not wanting to look after yourself

“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.”

These experiences and behaviours can start suddenly for some people, while for others they can develop gradually over time. You may become upset, anxious, confused or suspicious of other people or particular groups, for example strangers or people in authority. You may disagree with people who think something is wrong, or feel worried or afraid of seeking 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.

Positive and negative symptoms

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

  • Positive symptoms are experiences or behaviours that most people do not normally experience, for example hearing voices, seeing things that others don’t, believing something is real or true when it isn’t, or believing your thoughts are being monitored or controlled
  • Negative symptoms are experiences or behaviours that you stop having or have less of, for example a lack of some emotional responses or a lack of motivation

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’, nor does it indicate that someone will swing wildly from being calm to being out of control.

Sensational stories in the press tend to wrongly present people with schizophrenia as being dangerous, even though most people diagnosed with schizophrenia don’t commit violent crimes. Some people think that a person who hears voices is dangerous, but voices are actually more likely to suggest that the person harms themselves than others. It is important to remember that people 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 as schizophrenia, such as:.

  • Schizoaffective disorder
  • Schizotypal personality disorder
  • Schizoid personality disorder

For more information on schizoaffective disorder, see Mind’s booklet ‘Understanding schizoaffective disorder’.

For information on schizotypal personality disorder or schizoid personality disorder, see Mind’s booklet ‘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 a few different conditions that overlap.

Some people argue that the name of the condition does not matter and that it would be more helpful to focus on relieving specific symptoms and individual needs. Others argue that because psychiatric experts cannot agree on the definition of schizophrenia, schizophrenia should not be used as a diagnosis 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 the diagnosis more as a tool for treating what you are currently experiencing than a definite condition or label that you will have to live with forever.

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