Schizophrenia. What is it?

Schizophrenia is basically a psychotic illness, characterised by symptoms such as delusions and hallucinations, but which has no obvious cause – for example no brain injury or infection, no recent severe plunge in mood and no bipolar illness.

In the absence of mood swings or plunges, substance misuse and an organic or brain problem, then a psychotic illness of young to middle age warrants the possibility of schizophrenia. It tends to occur slightly younger in men – often in late teens and early twenties and is often slightly later in onset in women. There is a fairly strong genetic or hereditary component but in many cases there will be no family history whatsoever. Sometimes it can start suddenly out of the blue or on other occasions there will be gradual change in someone’s personality until eventually frank psychotic symptoms erupt.


There’s no single test for schizophrenia. It’s usually diagnosed after an assessment by a mental health care professional, such as a psychiatrist. Most experts believe the condition is caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors.

It’s thought that some people are more vulnerable to developing schizophrenia, and certain situations can trigger the condition.

Cause and symptoms of it

You could be diagnosed with schizophrenia if you experience some of the following symptoms:

  • a lack of interest in things
  • feeling disconnected from your feelings
  • difficulty concentrating
  • wanting to avoid people
  • hallucinations, such as hearing voices or seeing things others don’t
  • delusions – believing things to be true when they are not
  • disorganised thinking and speech
  • not wanting to look after yourself

It’s important to realise that most lay people can spot the possibility of a disorder like schizophrenia when someone has got so ill that they are openly talking to their voices.

However, it takes a specialist to spot the very earliest signs where changes can be so subtle that only if you know a person well might you notice them. It’s at this stage that early intervention can be really helpful, so the population at large need to be better educated as to the possibility that schizophrenia should be considered when someone starts to act or think a little strangely.


Schizophrenia is usually treated with a combination of medication and therapy tailored to each individual. In most cases, this will be antipsychotic medicines, psychoeducation and talking therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

People with schizophrenia usually receive help from a community mental health team, which offers day-to-day support and treatment.

Many people recover from acute symptoms of schizophrenia, although they may have periods when symptoms return (relapses). Support and treatment can help reduce the impact the condition has on daily life.