Schizophrenia is a long-term mental health condition that causes a range of different psychological symptoms. These include:
- hallucinations – hearing or seeing things that do not exist
- delusions – unusual beliefs that are not based on reality and often contradict the evidence
- muddled thoughts based on the hallucinations or delusions
- changes in behaviour
Doctors describe schizophrenia as a psychotic illness. This means that sometimes a person may not be able to distinguish their own thoughts and ideas from reality.
The exact cause of schizophrenia is unknown. However, most experts believe that the condition is caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors.
How common is schizophrenia?
Schizophrenia is one of the most common serious mental health conditions. The 2000 National Survey of Psychiatric Morbidity in the UK found that 5 in 1000 people experienced a psychotic disorder (including schizophrenia and manic depression). Men and women are equally affected by the condition.
In men, schizophrenia usually begins between the ages of 15 and 30. In women, schizophrenia usually occurs later, beginning between the ages of 25 and 30.
Misconceptions about schizophrenia
Schizophrenia is often poorly understood and many people have misconceptions about it. Two of the most common misconceptions about schizophrenia are:
- People with schizophrenia have a split or dual personality.
- People with schizophrenia are violent.
It is commonly thought that people with schizophrenia have a split personality, acting perfectly normally one minute and irrationally or bizarrely the next. However, this is not true. Although the term schizophrenia is a Greek word that means ‘split mind’, the term was first used long before the condition was properly understood.
It would be more accurate to say that people with schizophrenia have a mind that can experience episodes of dysfunction and disorder.