Schizophrenia is a significant mental illness which affects people’s thoughts, perceptions and behaviour and interferes with their ability to function at work, school or relate to other people. It causes someone to have an altered experience of reality and is one of a group of disorders known as psychosis.
The good news is that schizophrenia is more treatable than ever before. Many people recover completely whereas others might have episodes of schizophrenia that come and go. There are a number of different treatments to help people manage their symptoms and help them to flourish in all areas of life.
Treatment should be under the care of a psychiatrist, but may involve a team of different mental health professionals, including a doctor, mental health nurse, social worker, occupational therapist and clinical psychologist. Treatments are tailored according to the needs of the individual.
Research has shown that early treatment can be more effective, before the illness has time to cause damage. There are early intervention programs in most major cities in Australia.
Medicine is the main form of treatment for schizophrenia. Antipsychotic medicines can reduce the main symptoms like hallucinations and delusions, and normally take up to 6 weeks to start working. Recently, a new generation of treatments has been developed, including risperidone, quetiapine, clozapine and many others. Some people develop side effects to medicine, so it is important to have regular appointments with a psychiatrist or doctor. People respond differently to medicine and sometimes it is necessary to try more than one type before finding the ideal medicine.
Psychological treatments can help people to understand and manage their symptoms and learn new ways of coping. Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT), supportive psychotherapy and family therapy may all be used.
Mental health services can also provide practical support for people with schizophrenia. A stable living environment, supportive relationships and meaningful work or activity are essential ingredients for recovery. Some people with schizophrenia may need rehabilitation and skills training to help them get back to work or education.
People with schizophrenia may have higher rates of physical health problems than the wider community. It’s important to see a doctor regularly to stay healthy.
Some people with schizophrenia need to be treated in hospital at times. A hospital admission can help when symptoms are out of control or the person is not managing at home. Although the majority of people with schizophrenia are not violent, severe symptoms can cause some people to have thoughts of suicide or harming others. If you think someone may be at risk of suicide or violence, call triple zero (000).
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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.
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Last reviewed: December 2018