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Mental Health Now factsheet: schizophrenia

What is schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia is a type of psychotic disorder in which a person’s perceptions, thoughts, mood and behaviour are significantly altered.  

Common symptoms of schizophrenia

The following are symptoms of schizophrenia, although not all have to be present for a diagnosis:
  • Delusions (false beliefs, including of persecution, guilt, or of having a special mission, or being of special birth, or of being controlled by someone/something else)
  • Hallucinations (false perceptions, most commonly involving hearing voices but can include seeing, feeling, tasting or smelling things that are not actually present)
  • Disorganised speech (reflecting difficulties in concentration, with memory or planning. It can also reflect disorganised thinking)
  • Diminished emotional expression
  • Loss of drive
  • Social withdrawal

Treatment and recovery

People vary considerably in their pattern of symptoms and problems and in the resulting course of any remaining difficulties. While most people will recover from the initial acute phase, only 14-20% will recover fully. Others will improve but have recurrent episodes or relapses, lasting between a brief period and months or years. Many in this group manage to sustain an acceptable quality of life if given adequate support and help. 
Antipsychotic drugs are the primary treatment for schizophrenia, however they can be associated with unwanted side effects and poor adherence. 

Psychological and psychosocial interventions have been shown to be effective in managing symptoms, preventing the development of chronic negative symptoms (last 3 symptoms in above list), and reducing social disability. Such interventions include involving the family, addressing developmental trauma, problems with depression and anxiety, substance misuse and peer social engagement. 

Supporting people with schizophrenia in the workplace

Early professional help has been found to lead to better recovery long-term and reduces the chances of the person developing further episodes of psychosis, so do not delay in seeking help.  

An initial assessment should be made by the person’s GP, or via an employee assistance programme (EAP). They are likely to refer the person on to a specialist multi-disciplinary team for assessment and advice on treatment. If this is not the person’s first episode of psychosis, check if they have a crisis card or advance directive which outline how they want to be treated if they become very unwell and who should be contacted for additional support.

There is research to show that 95% of individuals with schizophrenia may want some kind of work role, either volunteering or paid employment. Also, having no work, or little structure or role in society, which can lead to social isolation and poverty, can increase the chances of relapses. Therefore having work or a purpose is beneficial to these individuals. 

Where to find out more