Schizophrenia is a mental illness that has a large variety of symptoms and can seem very different in one person from another. Experts believe schizophrenia may be a group of conditions - rather than a single disorder - which causes an altered experience of reality and affects people's thoughts, perceptions and behaviour.
The symptoms are divided into 3 main categories, known as positive, negative and disorganised symptoms.
Positive symptoms of schizophrenia
These are symptoms that are ‘added’ to the person’s experience of life. While named 'positive symptoms', this does not mean they are ‘good’ symptoms.
- Hallucinations: seeing or hearing something that isn’t there. The most common hallucination in schizophrenia is hearing voices.
- Delusions: odd or unusual beliefs that are generally held to be untrue by others. The person generally holds onto their belief even when there is evidence that it is untrue. Delusions are not consistent with the person’s culture or religion. The most common delusion is paranoia - believing that someone is trying to harm you.
Negative symptoms of schizophrenia
People with schizophrenia often have difficulty functioning at work or school and relating to others. This may be due to negative symptoms, which refers to certain abilities that have been lost. 'Negative' symptoms does not mean ‘bad’ symptoms. They include:
- a lack of pleasure in activities that were once enjoyed
- not wanting to talk much
- a lack of emotion or inappropriate emotions
- a lack of interest in socialising or relationships
- self-neglect: not showering, preparing meals or cleaning.
Symptoms of disorganised schizophrenia
These symptoms are due to confusion in the brain, and include:
- thoughts or speech that may appear jumbled or disconnected, jumping from one topic to another
- words being used in unusual ways
- emotions that may seem out of place, such as laughing at sad news
- trouble with planning or making decisions
- finding it hard to understand other people’s feelings or actions.
See a doctor if you or someone you know seems to be experiencing any of these symptoms.
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A person with schizophrenia may have thoughts of self-harm or suicide. If you think a person is in immediate danger from suicide, call triple zero (000) immediately or go to the nearest hospital emergency department.
Last reviewed: December 2016