Schizophrenia impacts a person's thoughts, perceptions, emotions, and behaviour. It can cause periods where people lose touch with reality. Other changes such as reduced motivation, flattened emotional expression, and problems processing information can also occur.
With treatment and support people can and do live fulfilling lives.
- Genetics, your early development, substance abuse, stressful social circumstances and trauma (particularly in childhood) can increase your chances of experiencing schizophrenia.
- It affects roughly 20 million people worldwide.
- Schizophrenia most often develops between the late teens and early 30s, though it can start later, especially in women.
Symptoms of schizophrenia
One of the main symptoms of schizophrenia is psychosis. A person experiencing psychosis finds it hard to tell what is real from what isn’t. Psychosis is often experienced in episodes — short periods of intense symptoms. The main symptoms of psychosis are:
- delusions — false beliefs that can’t be changed by evidence
- hallucinations — hearing voices or otherwise sensing things that aren’t there
- disorganised thinking — unusual, disrupted thoughts and speech
- disorganised behaviour — unusual, inappropriate or extreme actions.
Related: Psychosis factsheet
In addition to psychosis, there are other kinds of symptoms experienced by people with schizophrenia. These vary from person to person — not everyone experiences all of these symptoms. They include:
- Low motivation
- Reduced expression of emotions
- Feeling less pleasure in everyday life
- Problems with attention and memory
- Difficulty processing and using information
- Difficulties in important areas of life such as work, relationships, or self-care.
Schizophrenia frequently begins with general, hard-to-pin-down changes to someone’s thinking, emotions and behaviour. They tend to come and go, but if left untreated they get worse over time. The following are much stronger signs that something is wrong:
- preoccupation with a subject
- speech or writing that is very fast, muddled, irrational or hard to understand
- talking much less
- loss of concentration, memory and/or attention
- increased sensitivity to light, noise and/or other sensory inputs
- withdrawing from relationships or hobbies
- increased anger, aggression or suspiciousness
- decreased or disturbed sleep
- inactivity and/or hyperactivity
- behaving in a way that’s reckless, strange or out of character
- laughing or crying inappropriately, or being unable to laugh or cry
- inattention to personal hygiene
- depression and anxiety
- being unable to feel or express happiness.
If you think you or someone you know might be experiencing these changes in their thinking or behaviour now, see a doctor immediately. The best place to start is your GP.
Diagnosis & treatment
Schizophrenia takes time to diagnose: you might get a working diagnosis of schizophrenia quickly, but it can’t be confirmed until you’ve experienced a month of psychotic symptoms and at least six months of difficulties in important ares of life such as work, relationships, or self-care. Your diagnosis might also change over time, for example after new information or experiences are discovered by you, your family or the health professionals you're working with. That's normal.
Your GP can make an initial assessment then refer you to a specialist — usually a psychiatrist — for full diagnosis and treatment.
Treatments include antipsychotic medication, specialist psychological therapies and community support programs to help with social connection, physical health, accommodation and work or school.
It is important that people experiencing symptoms of schizophrenia are able to collaborate with their healthcare providers to on treatment decisions. This is ethically essential as well as potentially having benefits for a person's understanding and treatment satisfaction.
Treatment often continues for some time after symptoms have resolved to prevent their return. Some people continue to receive treatment and support to manage their mental health issue across their lifetime. Over time, your treatments may change to reduce the type or intensity of treatments, improve the results and reduce side-effects.
It became a journey of rediscovering myself and developing techniques to help me get well and stay well
There’s a strong public perception that people experiencing schizophrenia are likely to be violent, even though this isn’t true. Film & TV depictions of violent killers are often labelled with a false, highly damaging idea of psychosis or schizophrenia. Some people react fearfully or judgmentally when they learn a person has a psychotic diagnosis.
Stigma hurts, but you can protect yourself against false perceptions by learning as much as you can about it from reputable sources, and by talking with other people who have experienced schizophrenia, for example on the SANE Forums.
Help for family & friends
The family and friends of someone with schizophrenia need care and support too — it’s okay to set boundaries for the care you can give, and to prioritise your own physical and mental health.
There are many other people out there who share your experience, and many services designed to help carers of people with mental health issues. Here are a few places to find support:
- SANE Friends, Family, and Carers Forum
- SANE Counselling Support - 1800 187 263
- Mental Health Carers Australia - 1300 554 660
- Carer Gateway - 1800 422 737
- NDIS families & carers page - 1800 800 110
- Young Carers Network
If you’re caring for someone and feeling isolated, you’ve got to reach out. You are honestly not alone, there are so many of us out there
SANE factsheets provide brief, introductory information about mental health. For more in-depth information, read SANE’s Schizophrenia guide.
This SANE factsheet is currently being reviewed by industry professionals and people with lived experience