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Schizophrenia affects people's thoughts and behavior.

Schizophrenia affects people's thoughts and behavior.
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Schizophrenia is a mental illness that can be severely disabling. It causes an altered experience of reality and affects people's thoughts, perceptions, behaviour and level of functioning.

It's not known what causes schizophrenia. Potential causes include genetics, problems with brain development, imbalances in neurotransmitters and drug and alcohol use.

Most people find schizophrenia hard to understand and there are many myths about the illness.

Contrary to popular belief, people with schizophrenia do not have a 'split personality'.

Only a very small number of people with schizophrenia become violent but they do have a higher rate of suicide than the general population.

Schizophrenia symptoms

Schizophrenia affects about 1 out of 100 people, and the symptoms usually begin in late adolescence or early adulthood. It is generally a long-term illness and can cause serious disability when left untreated.

Symptoms of schizophrenia can include:

  • Hallucinations - hearing or seeing something that isn't real, such as hearing voices when no one is there.
  • Delusions - odd or unusual beliefs that are generally held to be untrue by others.
  • Difficulty functioning at work or school and relating to others. Examples include:
    • A lack of emotion or inappropriate emotions.
    • A lack of interest in socialising or relationships.
    • Self-neglect: not showering, preparing meals or cleaning.
  • Confusion and disorganisation. Some examples are:
    • Jumbled or disconnected thoughts or speech.
    • Difficulty in planning and decision-making.
    • Difficulty understanding other people's feelings or actions.

Schizophrenia diagnosis

There is no test available for schizophrenia. If a person has unusual thoughts, perceptions or behaviours that sound like schizophrenia a doctor or mental health professional can do a mental health assessment in the form of a special interview. They may also do blood tests or a brain scan to rule out other conditions.

Schizophrenia treatment

Schizophrenia is now more treatable than ever before, and getting help as early as possible can improve the outcome. Treatment should be under the care of a psychiatrist, but may involve a team of different health professionals including a GP, mental health nurses, social workers, occupational therapists and clinical psychologists.

Treatment options include tailored combinations of:

  • Medication and medical care
  • Psychological therapy including Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT), supportive psychotherapy and family therapy
  • Community support
  • Rehabilitation.

If you suspect you or someone you know may be experiencing the symptoms of schizophrenia, see a doctor as soon as possible.

More information

For further information about schizophrenia, please see the Australian Treatment Guide for Consumers and Carers, from the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists website.

Last reviewed: September 2015

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