Definition: Schizophrenia is a mental health condition where that involves experiencing psychosis, hallucinations, delusions, and unusual patterns of thinking or speaking.
Schizophrenia is a mental illness that affects about 1 in 100 people. Each person will experience it slightly differently from the next. Often, in men, it manifests around the ages of 18-25, and in women, it can manifest between the ages of 25-30. In saying this, it is not unheard of for it to manifest itself at a much earlier age or even later. It can sometimes be triggered by certain events, drug and/or alcohol usage, illnesses, etc.
Seeking help for schizophrenia can be difficult for individuals as it is a highly stigmatised illness. The media portray those with schizophrenia to be dangerous and violent. However, for the vast majority of the time, this isn’t true. Those with mental health issues, including schizophrenia, are more likely to be victims than perpetrators of violence. More often than not, these individuals are more likely to be scared and confused and in need of support and understanding.
Symptoms differ from person to person, yet, as with all conditions, there are symptoms that add up to a diagnosis. Schizophrenia generally includes a combination of positive and negative symptoms. In this case, positive means the presence of something, and negative means a lack of something.
- Thought disruptions. Those with schizophrenia can find it difficult to think clearly, make plans, and decisions.
- Psychosis. This is when someone perceives the world around them as different from reality. It really just means it can be difficult to distinguish what is real and what isn't.
- Hallucinations. This is a false sensory experience when an individual may see, smell, hear, feel or even taste something that isn’t there. Individuals may experience one or more of the following hallucinations.
- Auditory hallucinations can be friendly, familiar or critical and can vary from discussing thoughts or telling someone what to do. They may be voices, white noise, whispering or other sounds.
- Visual hallucinations can involve seeing shapes and colours, animals, creatures, people, faces, and other objects that aren’t there.
- Tactile hallucinations can involve feeling things that aren’t there, such as feeling something internally (in your body) or externally (on your body).
- Olfactory hallucinations can involve tasting and/or smelling things that aren’t there.
- Delusions. These are beliefs that an individual holds despite evidence against it. There is a range of delusions one may experience and themes may or may not be recurring. These include:
- Persecutory delusions - when someone believes a group, individual or organisation is harming or going to harm them.
- Erotomaniac delusions - when someone believes that another is in love with them, despite no evidence of this.
- Somatic delusions - when someone believes they have a serious health condition or something wrong with them health-wise, despite no evidence of this.
- Grandiose delusions - when someone believes they have special powers or qualities that make them superior to others.
- Referential delusions - when someone believes there are hidden meanings behind normal events and interactions.
- Religious delusions - when a person believes they may be a reincarnation of a religious figure, are possessed, or other related delusions.
- Anhedonia or lack of pleasure. Anhedonia is when an individual loses interest or pleasure in activities and experiences.
- Withdrawal. Those experiencing schizophrenia may withdraw from social situations and find social settings to be stressful or difficult, thus withdrawing from any kind of social event and from friends and family.
- Not speaking much, if at all. Some people may struggle to speak and/or hold a conversation. It can lead to difficulties in moving and speaking.
- Lack of motivation or avolition. This can cause disruptions in an individual’s daily life. From work/school life to personal care, avolition can create a lot of barriers and challenges, also leading to withdrawal from activities and social events.
NB: Psychosis is a symptom of many disorders and is not a disorder in itself. Individuals can experience such conditions as depression with psychotic features, bipolar with psychotic features, schizoaffective disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and schizophrenia.
Untreated schizophrenia can lead to worsening symptoms, so seeking treatment is very important. Treatments may include one or a combination of the following things:
- Medications: Including antipsychotics. Antipsychotics work to lessen hallucinations and delusional symptoms.
- Psychotherapy: This can help in normalising certain thought patterns as well as helping with stress and noticing potential relapse or early warning signs. This can be done individually, as a group, or with family. Psychotherapy may include one or a combination of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), cognitive enhancement therapy (CET), dialectical behavioural therapy (DBT), acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), psychosocial therapy, and social skills training. In some cases, some individuals with schizoaffective have found electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) to be beneficial. While there has been a lot of stigma surrounding this specific type of treatment, modern medicine has allowed it to be a safe and effective treatment for many health conditions.
- Rehabilitation and supportive employment: There are some programs that work to provide those with schizophrenia, and other mental health conditions, to prepare for, find, and keep jobs.
It’s best to talk to your health team when looking at treatment options. They can recommend and guide you through what could be the best fit for you and your well-being.
It’s important to note that schizophrenia can often be a lifelong illness, however, that doesn’t mean an individual can’t live the life they want to. People can and do live full, fulfilling lives with schizophrenia. Symptoms may not ever fully disappear, but through treatment, they can become more manageable.
I have a loved one experiencing schizophrenia, how can I help?
If you have a loved one who is struggling, simply having an open conversation about how you can best support them can mean the world. There are some ways you can support a loved one, but also remember that you are a friend, family member, partner, etc and not a professional. You can’t expect yourself to be everything for everyone.
Ways to support a loved one include:
- Asking if, when they’re experiencing a hallucination, what would be most helpful, e.g. if they’d like to deal with it in their own way or if it would be good for you to distract them and help them become a bit more grounded in reality.
- Maybe offering to help with a chore, groceries, etc. Even working on a well-being plan with your loved one can be helpful.
- Don’t dismiss their feelings, thoughts, or experiences. It’s valid to not always know what to say, but don’t invalidate their experience.
- Stay in contact. Sometimes, if someone with schizophrenia is having a tough time, they may withdraw and isolate themselves. Staying in contact reminds your loved one that you’re there for them.
Understanding this condition is also immensely helpful. It can help you and your loved one to better work with what they’re going through. It’s equally important to also remember to take time out for yourself for self-care.
Schizophrenia is a complex condition, but it’s important for those struggling to know that it can be managed. You can find ways to cope with it and live with it. There is always hope and people who care about you who will support you on your journey.
Resources and links:
- Living Well with Schizophrenia
- Schizophrenic Hippie YouTube Channel
- WebMD - Schizophrenia Symptoms
- Mayo Clinic - Schizophrenia Diagnosis and Treatment
- Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand - Schizophrenia
- Talking Minds
- Hearing Voices Network New Zealand
- Yellow Brick Road - Schizophrenia Information
- YouTube - Schizophrenia: The Animated Guide
- The Mighty - Schizophrenia
- Healthline - How to Help Someone with Schizophrenia
- Psychosis Positivity Instagram
Voices of Hope does not offer direct mental health services and our team is not comprised of trained mental health professionals. If you require assistance, we recommend visiting our resources page for helpful information.
If you are in immediate risk of harm to yourself or others, or need advice for someone in your life that is at risk of immediate harm to themselves, please contact your local emergency services.