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What is schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia is a long-term mental health condition which affects the way you think, feel and behave. It is one of the most common severe mental health conditions with 1 in 100 people being affected, many of whom succeed in leading normal lives. 

Schizophrenia is most often diagnosed between the ages of 15 and 35 and affects men and women equally. Many people who are diagnosed with schizophrenia recover, but may suffer relapses; chances of recovery are higher if the condition is diagnosed early on.

Symptoms of schizophrenia

Schizophrenia is often described as a psychotic illness, meaning that a person with schizophrenia may not be able to distinguish thoughts from reality. The symptoms of schizophrenia can be divided into ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ symptoms. 

Positive symptoms include delusions and hallucinations. The most common hallucination is hearing voices. The voices are not imaginary in the sense that they don’t exist; a person with schizophrenia really does hear them, but they are created by the mind. Scans have shown that brain activity ‘lights up’ during hallucinating voices in the same way that it would if you were talking to someone. 

Negative symptoms include feeling withdrawn, unmotivated and/or depressed; these symptoms are usually longer lasting.

Living with schizophrenia

If managed, schizophrenia does not have to be a debilitating condition. Learning your triggers, learning how to recognise the signs of an acute schizophrenic episode, taking medication as recommended and being open with others about your condition are all ways in which you can decrease the chances of relapse.

Common misconceptions about schizophrenia

The term ‘schizophrenia’ makes many people uneasy, largely a result of unfair media coverage which for a long time has associated the condition with violence and disturbance. Having schizophrenia does not mean that you have a split personality. 

Schizophrenics also have a reputation for violence; however, statistically speaking, this is unjustified. Violent behaviour is usually triggered by drugs or alcohol, which is the same for people without schizophrenia. 

Sadly, these misconceptions inhibit people from getting help, as they fear rejection and judgement. Rates of suicide and self-harm are much higher in those with schizophrenia; one in 10 will take their own life.

How counselling can help with schizophrenia

Seeing a counsellor may be helpful in many ways. You may feel that it is difficult for people to understand your condition without prejudice; a professional therapist or counsellor will provide a non-judgemental space wherein you can discuss your feelings and experiences. Therapy can help alleviate symptoms associated with schizophrenia, such as stress, depression and paranoia. CBT can be extremely helpful, teaching you the tools to identify and modify damaging thought patterns. Family therapy might also be worth considering as a means to help you and your family become comfortable with the condition.

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Last updated 22 October 2015