Understanding schizophrenia - 10 questions about schizophrenia

On World Mental Health Day, Dr Fiona Morrison, Consultant Psychiatrist at The Priory Hospital, Glasgow answers the top 10 questions about schizophrenia.

1.   Who does schizophrenia affect?

Schizophrenia can affect anyone, although most people have their first experience between their late teens and their thirties. It’s equally common in men and women.

2.   How common is it?

The risk of developing schizophrenia is about 1% with the incidence around 2-4 people per 10,000.

3.   Why do some people get schizophrenia?

No-one knows the exact reason. Evidence shows that those who have schizophrenia have structural changes in their brain. Genetics are also involved - if you have a parent, sister or brother with schizophrenia the risk of you developing the illness increases to around 10%. 

4.   What triggers schizophrenia in people who are at risk of developing it?

The most common triggers include:

  • Stress: stressful life events such as bereavement, losing your job or home, a divorce or the end of a relationship or abuse.
  • Drug abuse: studies have shown drug misuse increases the risk of developing schizophrenia.

5.   What are the symptoms?

The symptoms are very varied.  It can start with a period where the person feels that something strange (but real to them) is about to happen. Delusions can then develop which may start based in truth, but become more complex as the illness progresses.  Some people hear voices, but not everyone experiences this.

6.   What does it feel like to have schizophrenia?

The first time someone experiences schizophrenia can be very confusing. They might feel afraid for themselves, and for those around them. They may also try to develop explanations for what they are experiencing; to try to make sense of their world.

7.   Does schizophrenia have a big impact on life?

Where people with schizophrenia have well controlled symptoms they can function normally in the community, in their relationships and at work. If the symptoms aren’t well controlled (or if someone was diagnosed late and their symptoms had become deep-rooted) they may feel suspicious of people's intentions, and may be talking to their 'voices' whilst walking about.  This can cause alarm and lead to them becoming a target in the community.

8.   What professional help is available?

The first step in seeking help should be your GP who can refer you to a mental health professional. Psychiatry and psychology assessments can help with diagnosis and early management of symptoms. The Hearing Voices Network can be very good for those who wish to use other ways (than medication) to take back control of their ‘voices’.

9.   How can friends and family help?

Such is the portrayal of schizophrenia in the media that it can be alarming to find out that someone you care about has got the condition. The best thing you can do is listen to them in a non-judgmental way. Encourage them to talk about their symptoms, and don’t deny or dismiss as nonsense their very real experiences.

10.  How else can people with schizophrenia get support?

With all the best will in the world it can be hard for family and friends to give you all the support you need if they have never experienced schizophrenia. Talking to other people with schizophrenia can help you to understand your condition and boost your confidence. Charities to try include Mind, Sane and Mental Health Foundation .

If you have concerns about schizophrenia and would like to speak to somebody, please call: 0845 277 4679 or click here to make an enquiry.