About schizophrenia

Schizophrenia is a rare mental illness which affects people’s perception of reality. It can be really difficult, but with treatment and support, you can get it under control.

A young person sits on some steps using their phone with an open laptop

What is schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia is a condition that affects how you perceive reality. With schizophrenia, you’ll likely experience ‘psychotic’ symptoms such as hallucinations and delusions.  

It’s thought that some people are more prone to schizophrenia than others. It has a tendency to affect young men aged 15-25 and can be brought on by extreme stress or trauma. Symptoms include:

  • Hallucinations – seeing/hearing/smelling/touching/tasting things that aren’t there. A common example of this is hearing voices.
  • Delusions – believing things that aren’t true and you don’t have any evidence for. Delusions can often be paranoid i.e. ‘they’re plotting to kill me’
  • Confused thinking – thoughts are muddled and tend to drift from one unrelated thing to another
  • Withdrawing and losing interest – where emotions are flat and everything seems like a massive effort.

Schizophrenia isn’t having a split personality, as lots of people think. And it doesn’t mean someone’s dangerous either.

Do I have schizophrenia?

It’s natural to worry about your mental health, especially if you’re feeling paranoid, confused about what’s real or depressed. But schizophrenia is complicated, and even if you have some of the symptoms, that doesn’t mean you have it.

That said, if you have experienced any of the symptoms, don’t ignore them. Go to your doctor, as the quicker you diagnose schizophrenia, the better.

What’s it like to have schizophrenia? 

Jonny was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder (which is like schizophrenia but involves mood swings) when he was at university. He says: “At first I lost touch with reality. I became isolated and started self-harming. Then, one night, I left my house shouting and screaming and walked out onto a dual carriageway – I was completely out of control.”

But Jonny says he now knows how to cope with his intrusive thoughts. “Eventually I went back to uni and finished my degree,” he says. “At first I thought of it as a life sentence – but I’ve found ways to manage it.”

Watch a video about Jonny’s story here.

Can I still work if I have schizophrenia

As with any severe mental health condition, it’s important to focus on staying well and managing your symptoms. Stick to a routine and keep up with your treatment. Tell your school or university about your schizophrenia – by law they must adapt so you can cope better, for example by giving you extra time in exams.

“I was terrified of talking about it but my lecturers were so understanding,” says Jonny. “I wish I’d spoken about it sooner.”

Don’t jump straight into a full-time job if you’re recovering. Try part-time first and don’t be afraid to tell your employers if it gets too much for you. Again, they should take steps to help you cope with the condition at work.

Find out more about your rights at work here.

Can I still date if I have schizophrenia? 

If you have paranoia and delusions, things like worrying why someone’s not called you back or why they’ve not put a kiss on the end of a message can become a bigger deal.

“In my last relationship, they were laid back but I thought they weren’t interested,” says Jonny. “So I got really intense and pushed them away.”

Though it’s hard, it’s worth being honest early on about the fact you have a mental illness. Look at our article on telling your boyfriend or girlfriend you have a mental health problem for some tips.

How can I cope with schizophrenia?

Getting the right treatment from your doctor is the best thing you can do. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or try a different treatment if one doesn’t work.

  • Eat well and exercise – looking after your body has a surprisingly good effect on your mind.
  • Get a routine – try to go to bed, eat and take your medication at the same times every day. 
  • Don’t be too hard on yourself – your schizophrenia isn’t your fault, so don’t blame yourself.
  • Talk – you could join a support group or talk to people online on the Hearing Voices Network.
  • Be careful with alcohol and drugs – “I find alcohol heightens things like paranoia, so I try to drink in moderation,” says Jonny.
  • Have a mental health crisis action plan– decide what to do if you feel you’re getting worse. Who should you talk to and what things can make you feel better?

How do I help someone with schizophrenia?

Firstly, be patient. It can take a long time to recover from schizophrenia, but you can help them along.

  • Reassure them – remind them you’re here, that you don’t blame them. 
  • If they’re not taking their meds – try and get them into a discussion about it rather than an argument. If they’re unhappy with their meds, encourage them to go to their GP.
  • Give practical support – when they’re doing well, ask them what you should do if things get worse. Help them with the things you can, like going with them to doctor’s appointments.
  • Get support yourself – if it gets on top of you, contact SANE for support.

If someone in your family has schizophrenia, ask your GP about family therapy.

Next Steps

  • Our Crisis Messenger provides free, 24/7 crisis support across the UK. If you’re aged 25 or under, you can text THEMIX to 85258
  • Mind offers advice and support to people with mental health problems. Their helpline runs nine to six from Monday to Friday. 0300 123 3393
  • Anyone can contact the Samaritans on their 24-hour helpline to talk things through. 116 123
  • If you're under 25 and would like free confidential telephone counselling from The Mix to help you figure things out complete this form and we'll call you to arrange your first session.
  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.
  • Need help but confused where to go locally? Download our StepFinder iPhone app to find local support services quickly.

By Holly

Updated on 11-Sep-2020

Photo by Helder Almeida