Schizophrenia is a rare mental illness with a tendency to hit young men aged 15 to 25. It can be devastating, but with treatment and support you can get it under control.
What is schizophrenia?
It’s thought that some people are more prone to schizophrenia than others. It tends to appear when triggered by factors like extreme stress. Symptoms include:
- Hallucinations – seeing/hearing/smelling/touching/tasting things that aren’t there i.e. no-one else can sense them. 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’s now 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.”
If I’ve got schizophrenia, how will it affect my exams and work?
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.
How will schizophrenia affect my love life?
If you have paranoia and delusions, things like worrying why they’ve not called you back or that they’ve not put a kiss on the end of a text 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 help myself?
Getting the right treatment from your doctor is the best thing you can do. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or try and 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. “When I’m out of my routine, my mental health deteriorates,” says Jonny.
- 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. This especially helps with paranoia.
- 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.
Updated on 29-Sep-2015
Photo by Helder Almeida
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