Schizophrenia is a diagnosis given to people who experience symptoms of psychosis, alongside what are called ‘negative symptoms’.
What is schizophrenia?
Schizophrenia is a diagnosis given to people who experience symptoms of psychosis, alongside what are called ‘negative symptoms’:
- Psychosis can include hallucinations, delusions, paranoia and confused thoughts and feelings.
- Negative symptoms include withdrawal from family and friends and an extreme lack of interest and motivation generally.
Only a psychiatrist can diagnose schizophrenia. They will make a diagnosis by asking questions about a person's thoughts and feelings.
There is a lot of disagreement over whether the diagnosis of schizophrenia should still be used and whether focusing on the individual symptoms would be more helpful. However, it is important to remember that a diagnosis is not a label. It is a tool to help professionals decide what types of treatment and support may help. Diagnoses may also change over the course of someone's lifetime.
How common is schizophrenia?
It is difficult to know how common schizophrenia is, as many people describe the symptoms in different ways and some may never receive a formal diagnosis. However, it is estimated around 1% of the population will experience the symptoms of schizophrenia, or something similar, within their lifetime.
What are some of the myths and misconceptions about schizophrenia?
Unhelpful and inaccurate beliefs about what it means to have schizophrenia can make people ashamed or afraid to speak about their experiences. This stops them getting the help they need and could lead to the loss of friends, family relationships, jobs, homes and even lives.
There's so much that's happened to you, that will keep happening, that you don't talk about, just so you can be "normal" - Ash
People with schizophrenia are dangerous
News, TV and films often portray people with schizophrenia as dangerous. This is partly because mental health problems are used as a way of explaining things people can’t make sense of. However, the fact is that people with mental health problems are more likely to be victims of violence rather than the one carrying it out.
On the rare occasions when someone with a mental health problem has committed an act of violence, it is nearly always because the right care and support has not been available to them.
It is my opinion that the ignorance, discrimination and stigma we were victims of will continue to destroy families and individuals unless public attitudes change - Peter
It means to have a ‘split personality’
The word schizophrenia means to have ‘two minds’ which over the years has made people think, that to have schizophrenia, means to have multiple personalities. This is not the case. Someone’s feelings, thoughts and behaviour may change depending on how well they are but they do not change in personality.
Someone with schizophrenia can’t live a normal life
In the early-mid 20th century people with diagnoses like schizophrenia were often kept in residential hospitals called ‘asylums’ because people thought they would never get better and they were better off separated from society, including their families and friends. This has been disproven and is no longer an acceptable way to treat anyone with a mental health problem. Someone with schizophrenia can live a normal, healthy, fulfilled life amongst their family and friends if they are offered the treatment and support they need.
I have faced discrimination because of my illness too. But it’s a myth that people who have schizophrenia can’t do great things and achieve their dreams. Especially with the love and support of others - Andrea
After being named and shamed with schizophrenia, my mother threw me out of the house; it was in the days of the old institution. Patients had been in hospital for 50 years - Karim
How does schizophrenia affect people's lives?
People with schizophrenia have to manage the symptoms of psychosis, as well as negative symptoms, at various points during their lives. Dealing with beliefs or experiences that others don’t believe or understand, can be very frightening, isolating and frustrating. The beliefs and experiences themselves can also be very worrying.
The social withdrawal and extreme lack of motivation that people with schizophrenia can experience can lead to them becoming very isolated and alone. They may also lose any motivation to look after their physical health and hygiene and become disinterested in work or hobbies. This can all lead to difficulties maintaining relationships, staying in employment and looking after their physical health.
I was in such a state I could barely leave the house and was waking my family several times a night to check that they had not, as my delusions were telling me, been murdered by an intruder as they slept - Alice
This point in time was, looking back, perhaps the low point of my life. I had almost given up on friendship altogether. I’d hardly seen my friends since becoming unwell - Ed
How can I help someone with schizophrenia?
Learn about schizophrenia
There are lots of resources online which you can use to find out about schizophrenia. These may help you to understand what your friend or family member is going through and help you to feel more confident in offering support. Try starting with the Mind or Rethink Mental Illness websites.
Please, please, do not bury your head in the sand, if you have a family member with mental illness. Make the effort to talk about it - Heli
Don't argue with them
If someone with schizophrenia is experiencing psychosis you may think it helpful to try and correct or challenge the strange beliefs or experiences they are going through. But it is important to remember that these things are very real to them and disagreeing with them may cause them to stop communicating with you all together or make them feel more scared and alone.
It is more helpful to focus on how they are feeling rather than their specific experiences. Try explaining that while you do not share the same experiences of beliefs, you do understand how they are making them feel, and that you would like to help.
An overall feeling of schizophrenia is that I felt very sequestered from the outside/real world; it’s like being locked away from people and society - Matthew
Ask them how you can help
Everybody is different and there is no one way to help someone experiencing schizophrenia. If you want to support a friend or loved one, one of the best things to do is ask them how.
I had not had friends over for years, so when my friend asked if he could pop round, I was delighted… I always look back at this as the time when my recovery started, when I thought I wanted more for myself - Ed
Give them information about other types of support
Sometimes the support of friends and family is not enough. Letting them know about the support they can get from the NHS, private healthcare or organisations like Mind and Rethink Mental Illness can also be helpful.
As well as treatment provided by medical professionals, such as psychological therapies and medication, community based support related to lifestyle, education or social activities can also help someone stay well.
Remember you can’t force someone to get help. Repeatedly trying to do so before they are ready can actually do more harm than good.
If someone is in the middle of a period of psychosis they might not be aware that they are unwell, and so may not see why they need medical help. This can be really difficult to deal with, but there are ways of getting someone help without their agreement if they are at serious risk or danger to themselves or others.