First, it’s important to say what schizophrenia is NOT because there are a lot of myths and misunderstandings about it. Schizophrenia ISN’T about having a “split personality”. And it DOESN’T automatically mean someone will be violent, ill, or in hospital for life. In fact, people with schizophrenia are much more of a risk to themselves than anyone else. And about a quarter of people with schizophrenia will make a complete recovery.
People with schizophrenia have unusual experiences where they feel out of control. The symptoms vary a lot from person to person. But usually, during an episode of schizophrenia, the way someone experiences the outside world becomes disrupted. They may lose touch with reality, see or hear things that aren’t there, and develop ‘false beliefs’ (for instance that other people can read their thoughts). In response to those experiences, they may act in unusual ways. An episode can last for several weeks, and can be frightening or disturbing for the person themselves and their friends or family. After this “acute” phase, people can go into a long-term period of ‘negative’ symptoms, similar to depression – including lack of motivation, a feeling of flatness, and withdrawing from other people.
About one person in every hundred will experience at least one episode of schizophrenia during their lives. Often, the symptoms first appear when people are in their late teens or early twenties and it can take quite a long time for schizophrenia to be diagnosed. But the good news is that major advances in treatment now mean that more and more people with schizophrenia are able to live ordinary lives.