Schizophrenia is a significant mental illness that causes someone to have an altered experience of reality. It is one of a group of disorders known as psychosis. Schizophrenia affects people’s thoughts, perceptions and behaviour and interferes with their ability to function at work, school or relate to other people.
People with schizophrenia often experience stigma in the community, which can be one of their biggest problems. 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.
Watch Tom's story about living with schizophrenia.
The main symptoms of schizophrenia are hallucinations and delusions. A hallucination refers to hearing or seeing something that isn’t real, such as hearing voices when no one is there. A delusion is believing something that can be proven to be untrue, such as believing you have a microchip implanted in your head. The symptoms can be frightening to experience. Other symptoms include confused thoughts, unusual behaviour and lack of motivation for everyday tasks.
Schizophrenia affects about 1 in 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.
Schizophrenia is now more treatable than ever before, however, and getting help as early as possible can improve the outcome. Most people require medication as the major part of their treatment, but it’s important to get support in other areas too. Psychological therapy, rehabilitation and family therapy can help people to cope with their symptoms and rebuild their lives.
If you suspect you or someone you know may be experiencing the symptoms of schizophrenia, see a doctor as soon as possible.
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Last reviewed: December 2016