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Schizophrenia


Schizophrenia is a mental health condition that affects your mood and how you think, feel and behave. It doesn’t mean you have a ‘split personality’.

There are lots of very different feelings, experiences and behaviours associated with schizophrenia. This means that some people think schizophrenia may not be one condition but actually different, overlapping conditions.

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Some people think that people with schizophrenia are dangerous. But it's uncommon for people with schizophrenia to become violent.

With treatment and support you’re likely to be able to manage your condition at home and have a full life, including work and lasting relationships.

What does it feel like?

People with schizophrenia can have different symptoms and experiences, so your experience may be different from someone else with the condition. You might:

  • have difficulty remembering things or concentrating
  • spending less time with others (being withdrawn)
  • behave in ways that other people feel are unusual or uncharacteristic
  • have difficulty communicating in a way others can understand
  • have ideas that you wouldn’t usually or that other people might call strange
  • have abnormal experiences
  • stop caring for yourself properly
  • have less interest in day-to-day activities
  • have less energy
  • feel disconnected from your emotions

You may also have times when you are more unwell. These periods can be called acute psychotic phases. You may experience:

  • Hallucinations. This is when you hear, smell, feel, taste or see something that isn't caused by anything or anybody around you. The hallucinations will seem real to you, but the people around you won’t experience them. The most common hallucination is hearing voices.
  • Delusions. You may believe that ordinary events, objects or behaviour have an unusual meaning specifically to you. Other people won’t understand this. You might also feel that other people are trying to control your thoughts, feelings or behaviour.
  • Difficulty thinking clearly. This is when you find it hard to concentrate and your thoughts feel jumbled or disconnected. You may also find it difficult to hold a conversation.

For some people, the first signs that they have schizophrenia are these intense symptoms. This can be particularly frightening. Once you’ve started treatment you should find that your symptoms start to get better. They might disappear altogether.

Depression is common for people with schizophrenia. One in seven people with continuing symptoms of schizophrenia become depressed.

What causes schizophrenia?

The reasons why some people develop schizophrenia aren't fully understood. Research has identified some things that may make someone more likely to develop schizophrenia. But we often don’t know why they do.

They are:

  • having a close relative who’s had schizophrenia
  • problems during your mother’s pregnancy with you
  • the chemical make up of your brain
  • difficulties in your early development or childhood
  • being born in a city
  • using cannabis, particularly during adolescence

One in 10 people who have a parent who has had schizophrenia develop the condition. It’s possible that this is because there are certain genes that make you more vulnerable to schizophrenia. But it could be to do with the environment you’re brought up in.

What treatments are available for schizophrenia?

Your treatment will depend on your symptoms and their severity. You’re likely to be offered a combination of different types of treatment. You may have some of your treatment at home or in the local community. However, you might have some treatment in hospital, especially if you are very unwell. Your care team will plan your treatment with you.

Medication. Medicines called antipsychotics are used to treat the symptoms of schizophrenia. For more info on antipsychotics see our extended information on schizophrenia.

Talking therapies. Your psychiatrist should offer you talking therapy, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) or family therapy. Some people want to try using talking therapies alone without medicines. However, talking therapies tend not to work well alone to treat schizophrenia. Your doctor may agree to a trial period.

Hospital treatment. You may need to be admitted to hospital for treatment if you’re very unwell or at risk of hurting yourself or others.

Other treatments. You may also be offered art therapy. You’ll also be offered support staying healthy. This can include help eating a healthy diet, getting regular exercise and stopping smoking.

For more information on treatments, see our information on common treatments and support.


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    • Schizophrenia. BMJ Best practice. bestpractice.bmj.com, last updated 7 March 2016
    • Psychosis and schizophrenia. NICE Clinical Knowledge Summaries. cks.nice.org.uk, last revised February 2015
    • Psychosis and schizophrenia in adults: treatment and management. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), February 2014. www.nice.org.uk
    • Antipsychotic drugs. NICE British National Formulary. www.evidence.nhs.uk/formulary/bnf/current, accessed 4 April 2017
    • Schizophrenia and related psychoses. Oxford handbook of psychiatry (online). Oxford Medicine Online. www.oxfordmedicine.com, March 2013
    • Map of Medicine. Schizophrenia and Psychosis. International View. London: Map of Medicine; 2015 (Issue 3)
    • Management of schizophrenia (SIGN 131). Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines Network. www.sign.ac.uk, 2013
    • Schizophrenia. Royal College of Psychiatrists. www.rcpsych.ac.uk, published August 2015
    • Antipsychotics. Royal College of Psychiatrists. www.rcpsych.ac.uk, published January 2014
    • What is schizophrenia. Camh Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. www.camh.ca, accessed 4 May 2017
  • Produced by Clare Foster, freelance health editor, and Nick Ridgman, Head of Health Content, Bupa UK, September 2017
    Next review due September 2020

    Bupa UK expert reviewers:

    • Naomi Humber, Psychology Services Manager, EAP
    • Stuart Haydock, Resilience Lead, Health Clinics
    • Sarah Deedat, Head of Behaviour Change


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