Schizophrenia is a mental disorder which affects thinking, feeling and behaviour. It is most likely to start between the ages of 15 to 35 and will affect about 1 in every 100 people during their lifetime.
Although the word ‘schizophrenia’ is often associated with violence in the media, this is the exception rather than the rule. Hospital admission is often not needed and many people with schizophrenia live a stable life, work, and have relationships.
Schizophrenia can be caused by a combination of different factors. These include genes, subtle brain damage at birth or viral infections during pregnancy and childhood abuse. Street drugs (ecstasy, LSD, amphetamines and crack) can probably trigger it, particularly in teenagers using cannabis. Stressful events and family tensions make it worse.
The symptoms of schizophrenia can be classified into positive and negative criteria. These are:
“Positive” symptoms include:
- Hallucinations – hearing, smelling, feeling or seeing something that isn’t there. Hearing voices is the most common problem. These can seem utterly real. Although they can be pleasant, they are more often rude, critical, abusive or annoying.
- Delusions – believing something completely even though others find your ideas strange and can’t work out how you’ve come to believe them.
- Difficulty thinking – you find it hard to concentrate and tend to drift from one idea to another. Other people can find it hard to understand you.
- Feeling controlled – you may feel that your thoughts are vanishing, or that they are not your own, or that your body is being taken over and controlled by someone else.
“Negative” symptoms include:
- Loss of interest, energy and emotions. You may not bother to get up or go out of the house. You don’t get round to routine jobs like washing, tidying, or looking after your clothes. You may feel uncomfortable with other people. Some people hear voices without negative symptoms. Others have delusions but few other problems. If someone has only muddled thinking and negative symptoms, the problem may not be recognised for years.