What is schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia is a serious mental health difficulty that can disturb someone’s thoughts, perceptions, emotions and behaviour. It affects about 1 in every 100 people worldwide and usually starts when you are a teenager or young adult, although it can also occur later in life.

People with schizophrenia can sometimes find it difficult to tell the difference between what is real and unreal. It may be difficult to think clearly, manage emotions, relate to others and deal with everyday life.

That doesn’t mean there isn’t hope. Schizophrenia can be successfully managed. The earlier schizophrenia is detected and treated, the better the chances of recovery.

What are the symptoms of schizophrenia?

Some common symptoms of schizophrenia are listed below. Having one or two of these symptoms does not necessarily mean you have schizophrenia. Diagnosis is a long process and can only be done by mental health professionals.

Symptoms are divided into two groups:

  • active symptoms – also referred to as ‘positive’ or psychotic symptoms, and
  • passive symptoms – also referred to as ‘negative’ symptoms.
Here we explain both types.

Active symptoms are what make up the actual ‘psychosis’ in schizophrenia. This is when you can experience a very different reality to others. Some people describe this feeling as ‘dreaming while awake’. Here we present three of the most common active symptoms: hallucinations, delusions and thought disorder.

1. Hallucinations

Hallucinations are unusual or unexplained sensations that can affect all of your senses:

Auditory – hearing
Hearing voices
Visual – seeing
Seeing brighter colours or lights
Tactile – touching
Having strange sensations when you touch something
Gustatory – tasting
Tasting unusual flavours
Olfactory – smell
Smelling strange scents

Hearing voices or other sounds is the most common hallucination. The experience of hearing voices can be different for everyone. The voice might be one you know or one you’ve never heard. It can be female, male, in a different language, or have an unusual accent. The voice may whisper, shout or talk. They may be disturbing.

You might hear voices every now and then or you might hear them all the time. The voices can talk to you or about you; they can be rude and abusive or, more rarely, positive and comforting. These experiences can be distressing and frightening.

2. Delusions

Delusions are strongly held personal beliefs that are unlikely to be true. To you they will be very real, but they seem odd or bizarre to others.
For example, if you are experiencing delusions you may believe:

  • people are inserting thoughts into your mind,
  • people are gesturing or commenting directly at you,
  • you have special powers or are someone famous,
  • you are being followed, spied on, tricked or tormented.

3. Thought disorder

This is a change in how you think (thought patterns) and usually shows through speaking in an unusual way.

For example, if you are experiencing thought disorder:

  • your normal way of speaking might break down,
  • you might start talking quickly or slowly with the things you say not making sense to other people,
  • your conversation might jump from one topic to another,
  • you might create new words.

Types of supports for schizophrenia

The treatment for schizophrenia can include a combination of: 

  • social supports like family support or group support,
  • psychological therapies like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT),
  • other talking therapies, and
  • medication.

Your doctor will be able to help you find the best treatment for you. Go to our recovery page to learn more.