What is schizophrenia?
Schizophrenia is a serious illness affecting
thoughts, feelings and behaviour. It is a type of psychosis which
means an illness where people lose touch with reality - see our
How common is it?
It is not common in younger children and
usually begins in the late teenage years. About 1 in 100 people
will suffer from schizophrenia over their lifetime.
This is still not fully understood. There are
a number of reasons that can make a person more likely to develop
schizophrenia or a similar psychotic illness:
- There may be chemical imbalances in the brain.
- Having a parent or close relative suffering from schizophrenia
can increase the chance of developing similar illness.
- Stress or extreme life events (like someone close dying).
- Using drugs like cannabis, LSD, ecstasy and speed
How do I know if I have schizophrenia?
When a person suffers from schizophrenia they may
have symptoms described as ‘positive’ or ‘negative’. This
does not mean 'good' or 'bad' ; it is more about 'doing' or 'not
doing' things because of the illness. Symptoms may develop
suddenlyor creep in more gradually. You may experience the
These will feel totally real to you
and can be distressing. It may seem that other people
don't understand or aren't taking you seriously.
- Unusual beliefs or delusions are very strong
beliefs which are obviously untrue to others, but not to you. The
may feel frightening or seem bizarre. For
example, you might strongly believe that there is a plot to
harm you or that you are being spied on through the TV or
being taken over by aliens.
- Muddled thinking or thought disorder is when
it is difficult to think straight. Sometimes it may feel that
others do not understand what you are trying to say. Your ideas may
feel jumbled up, but is more than being muddled or confused.
- Unusual experiences called hallucinations are
when you see, hear, smell or feel something that isn’t really
there, although you are convinced that it is. ‘Hearing voices’ is
one of the most common hallucinations. This can be very
frightening. It can make you believe that you are being ‘watched’
or ‘picked on’. Your friends or family may say that you are acting
‘strangely’. They may say that they hear you talking or laughing to
This does not mean they are ‘bad’ symptoms,
just that they are about ‘not doing’ something. You may feel tired
and unmotivated and not want to do normal things like:
- go to school
- do sports
- see friends
- get washed and dressed
- hobbies you used to enjoy.
You may become frustrated and angry,
especially towards your own friends or family. Some people try to
smoke or drink alcohol to feel better, but this tends to make
things worse. You may find the symptoms so distressing that you
feel like harming yourself.
How do I get help? It is important
that you seek help early. The earlier you are treated for
psychosis, the quicker you can get back to your normal life.
Firstly, you could talk to your family, school
nurse or GP. They may get you specialist help from
and Adolescent Mental Health Service
(CAMHS) team or an Early Intervention Team or
Service (EIS) - a specialist team for young people with
With psychosis, you often don’t realise that
you are unwell, which means the people around you might notice
it first. If you become very unwell, you could need some time
in hospital until your condition stabilises.
What is the treatment for
Medications called ‘antipsychotics’ are an
important part of treatment. They may need to be taken for a long
time in order to stay well. As with medication of any kind, there
can be side-effects; the doctor you see will be able to advise you
on these and what can be done to help.
If the psychosis is related to drug use or an
underlying physical illness, you may need specific help and
treatment to manage this.
Other forms of treatment are also important.
You and your family will need help to understand more about your
illness, how to manage it, and how to help prevent it coming back.
You may need support to rebuild your confidence to continue with
school, college or work.
Talking treatments can be helpful as well, but
need to be in addition to medication.
What will happen in the future?
Most young people with early help and treatment recover from
their psychotic episode. If the illness is due to an underlying
physical illness or the use of drugs, you might avoid having
another episode by taking the right treatment and
avoiding using drugs.
It is often difficult to know what the
long-term effects of a psychotic episode will be, and a definite
diagnosis may not be possible straight away.
Is there anything else I should
It is important to continue with any treatment
advised by your doctor and keep a balanced, healthy lifestyle.
Talking to others when you feel stressed can
help in identifying problems early and getting the right
Luke, 16, talks about psychosis
"I was about 14 when it happened. I had a good family, did well
at school and had group of good friends. Life had been good to me
although my mum said I could not handle stress. I would be a bag of
nerves before exams, was scared of failing and could not face is
someone was unwell.
Uncle Rob’s death a year back in the accident
was just too much. I knew I would feel upset for a long time. But
then I didn’t feel upset. It was strange. I thought people were
doing strange things to me like controlling me through radio
signals. I felt I had lost control of myself and even felt my body
was changing in a strange sort of way… not just the puberty. And
then I could not face school, I was swearing, felt muddled in my
head. My learning mentor got worried and spoke to my mum, who had
noticed my strange behaviour. I couldn’t sleep, couldn’t be
bothered about going out. I didn’t like the idea of seeing a
psychiatrist from the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service
and I thought they would judge me. But it was very different. She
seemed to know and understand how I felt, what I thought. I felt
relieved. She even said I was not going to be locked away in a
hospital. It was just an illness for which I needed to take
medication for few months or year.
She then introduced me to Kay, a worker from
Early Intervention Psychosis team. Kay explained to me and my
family all about psychosis, what we could to keep me well. She was
there when I felt I was losing it before my exams. It’s nearly a
year now. I am like any other 16 year old, going to school, with
friends etc... I take my meds and staying away from drugs and