What is Schizophrenia?
Schizophrenia is a mental health condition that causes a range of different psychological symptoms. These include hallucinations, hearing or seeing things that do not exist, and delusions (believing in things that are untrue).
Hallucinations and delusions are often referred to as psychotic symptoms, or symptoms of psychosis. Psychosis is when somebody is unable to distinguish between reality and their imagination.
Schizophrenia is one of the most common serious mental health conditions. One in 100 people will experience at least one episode of acute schizophrenia during their lifetime. Men and women are equally affected by the condition.
The exact cause of schizophrenia is unknown. However, most experts believe that the condition is caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors.
The symptoms of schizophrenia are usually classified into one of two categories – positive or negative.
- Positive symptoms – symptoms that represent a change in behaviour or thoughts, such as hallucinations or delusions.
- Negative symptoms – symptoms that represent the reduction or total lack of thoughts or functions that you would usually expect to see in a healthy person. For example, people with schizophrenia often appear emotionless, flat and apathetic.
Negative symptoms are not usually as dramatic as positive symptoms but they can be harder to treat. People often have episodes of acute schizophrenia, during which their positive symptoms are particularly severe, followed by periods where they experience few or no positive symptoms.
The initial symptoms of an acute schizophrenic episode can vary from person to person but the most commonly reported symptoms include:
- Loss of appetite
- Sleeping problems
- Beginning to neglect your personal hygiene and household chores
- Beginning to feel increasingly suspicious and fearful about other people
- Beginning to hear voices which make it increasingly difficult to concentrate
If you are concerned that your schizophrenia symptoms may be getting worse you should contact your GP.
Positive symptoms of schizophrenia
Hallucinations – A hallucination is when you think that you perceive something that does not exist in reality. Hallucinations can occur in any of the five senses, but the most commonly reported hallucination in schizophrenia is hearing voices.
Delusions – A delusion is having an unshakeable belief in something that is very unlikely, bizarre or obviously untrue. One of the most common delusions experienced in schizophrenia is paranoid delusions, for example belief that something, or someone, is deliberately trying to mislead, manipulate, hurt or, in some cases, even kill you.
Other common types of delusion are delusions of grandeur and attaching undue and misguided significance to everyday events. For example, you may start to think that songs being played on the radio are actually about you or that newspaper headlines are being used to send you secret messages.
Behavioural problems – During an intense schizophrenic episode, the combination of hallucinations and delusions can cause a person to act in an unusual and bizarre manner. For example, a person may cover all their windows in tin-foil because they believe that this will prevent their thoughts from being controlled by the government.
Disordered thoughts – People with schizophrenia often complain that their thinking has become confused, muddled or disorganised. They may struggle with concentration, their performance at work or college may suffer and even the simplest tasks, such as reading a newspaper article or sending an email, can become incredibly difficult.
Negative symptoms of schizophrenia
The negative symptoms of schizophrenia can often begin to manifest themselves several years before somebody experiences their first acute schizophrenic episode.
A lack, or ‘flattening’, of emotions – your voice can become dull and monotonous, and your face takes on a constant blank appearance.
An inability to enjoy things that you used to enjoy.
Apathy – you have no motivation to follow through on any plans and neglect household chores, such as washing the dishes or cleaning your clothes.
Becoming increasingly uncommunicative – you may find it hard or become reluctant to speak to people.
The negative symptoms of schizophrenia can often lead to relationship problems with friends and family because they can sometimes mistake them for deliberate laziness or rudeness.
Schizophrenia is treated using a combination of medical treatments such as anti-psychotic medicines, and psychological interventions such as cognitive behavioural therapy.
Recognising the initial signs of an acute schizophrenic episode can be very useful. It may be possible to prevent a full-blown schizophrenic episode through the use of anti-psychotic medicines and counselling.
Many people who are diagnosed with schizophrenia are able to live happy and fulfilling lives, even if they continue to experience symptoms. It can help to:
- look after your physical health
- try to cut down on stress
- do things you enjoy
- maintain relationships
- use peer support (see below)
- look out for warning signs
- plan for more difficult times
Local Help and Advice
Tyneside Women’s Health promotes the positive mental health and emotional well-being of women through various groups and activities.
Newcastle Libraries run the ‘Reading Well Books on Prescription‘ scheme. The collection provides books available to borrow to help you manage your mental wellbeing. The books deal with issues such as anger, anxiety, fear, panic, worry, assertiveness, confidence, self-esteem, depression, eating disorders, fatigue and pain
Mental Health Concern – provides a wide range of specialist mental health services, predominantly commissioned by the NHS and local authorities.
Launchpad is an organisation run by and for people experiencing mental health problems. They are involved in the planning, delivery, monitoring and evaluation of Mental Health services, advocating to influence the decisions made around Mental Health services.
ReCoCo: The Recovery College College run various peer-led support groups, and free educational and creative courses, which are open to anyone who would find them helpful in their recovery from mental illness, substance misuse, trauma or distress.
Newcastle Talking Helps – can help people with problems such as depression, anxiety, stress, anger, fears, bereavement and relationship difficulties.
Other Useful Organisations
- Understanding schizophrenia from MIND
- Re Think Mental Illness
- Health Talk.org Online
- Mental Health Foundation
- Mental Health Matters
Last updated: May 27, 2020