Schizophrenia is a long-term mental health illness that causes a range of psychological symptoms. It involves a person’s understanding and interpretation of the outside world becoming disturbed, meaning you may not be able to distinguish your own thoughts from reality. Episodes can last for several weeks at a time and can be really scary. For some people, schizophrenia can come on suddenly, but for some it can develop over time.
Symptoms of schizophrenia are broken down into two types. Positive symptoms, which are any changes in your behaviour or thoughts (such as hallucinations or delusions) and negative symptoms, which are any withdrawals that you wouldn’t see in a healthy person (e.g. people with schizophrenia usually appear emotionless).
Positive symptoms are behaviours or experiences that you start having because of schizophrenia. These include:
- Hallucinations – seeing things that other people can’t see, hearing things that other people can’t hear and experiencing sensations that have no apparent cause (e.g. feeling insects crawling on your skin)
- Delusions – when you have a false and irrational beliefs that no one else shares. You will believe it even if it doesn’t logically make sense or if experiences show it to not be true. An example is that you believe that you can control the weather. You can also have paranoid delusions, which are common. For example, you might feel that something or someone is trying to control or kill you (when you have no reason to believe this)
- Disorganised thinking – this happens as a result of hallucinations and delusions. You may start to feel confused and have racing thoughts, your thoughts may jump from idea to idea, you may start to speak very quickly and quickly change topics of conversation, finding it hard to keep your attention on one thing
- Changes in behaviour and thoughts – you might feel that your thoughts are being controlled and someone or something else is taking over you. Your behaviour may also become disorganised and very unpredictable.
Negative symptoms are behaviours or experiences that you stop having (or have less) because of schizophrenia. These include:
- Tiredness and a lack of energy and motivation
- A lack of concentration
- A loss of interest in things that you used to enjoy and in life itself
- Not wanting to leave the house
- Feeling uncomfortable around other people
Negative symptoms can lead to relationship breakdowns with friends and family as they can often be perceived as you just being lazy or rude.
- Genetics – you are more likely to develop schizophrenia if a close member of your family has a diagnosis of it.
- Stressful life events – you are more likely to develop schizophrenia if you experience stressful or life changing events (being physically, emotionally or sexually abused, losing someone close to you, being out of work, having money problems, being homeless). However, these events can’t cause schizophrenia, they can only trigger it if a person is already predisposed to it.
- Brain chemistry – research has shown that you may develop schizophrenia if there is a change in the levels of neurotransmitters such as dopamine.
- Drugs – drugs don’t directly cause schizophrenia but they can increase the risk of developing it. Some people develop the symptoms of schizophrenia after using drugs like cannabis or cocaine.
The causes of schizoaffective disorder aren’t known, but just like a lot of other mental health problems, factors that can influence its development are:
- Genetics – you may be more likely to develop schizoaffective disorder if a close member of your family has a diagnosis of schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. However, it is possible to develop it even without a family history of mental health problems
- Stressful life events – you are more likely to develop schizoaffective disorder if you experienced trauma at an age when you were too young to understand and cope with them. This would make you vulnerable to relapsing in times of stress if since then you have been unable to develop healthy coping mechanisms.
How can I help myself?
- Create a crisis plan – talk to someone you trust about what you would like them to do when you are in a crisis
- Look after your physical health – get some more sleep, choose a healthier diet and do some exercise!
- Keep a diary – it might also help if you keep a diary of your experiences so you can look back at it, identify triggers and then be able to anticipate stressful situations and deal with them better
- Practice self care – make time to find activities that will make you happy and do them. Visit people or places that will make you feel better. Treat yourself! Most importantly, be kind to yourself and treat yourself as you would treat a friend – try not to be hard on yourself on your bad days, it’s a process.
- Talking treatments – Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) focuses on your thoughts, feelings and behaviours and helps you to understand your experiences, teaching you how to recognise and overcome stressful situations.
- Family interventions – this is a form of therapy that includes family and people that you are close with to help you understand any difficulties you are experiencing as a family
- Medication – you might be prescribed antipsychotic medication to help you with the symptoms of psychosis. You might also be prescribed antidepressants or mood stabilisers to help you with your mood symptoms.
- Art therapies – this uses creative arts to express yourself with a therapist. Expressing yourself through the arts can help you to find new ways to relate to other people