Schizophrenia & Psychosis

What is Schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia is a serious mental illness that causes disturbances in thoughts, perceptions, emotions and behaviour. It affects about 1 in every 100 people worldwide and usually occurs first in adolescence or early adulthood, although it can also occur later in life.

People with Schizophrenia can sometimes find it difficult to distinguish between what is real and unreal. It may be difficult to think clearly, manage emotions, relate to others and deal with everyday life.

That doesn’t mean there isn’t hope. Schizophrenia can be successfully managed. The earlier Schizophrenia is detected and treated, the better the chances of recovery.

Some symptoms of Schizophrenia are listed below. It’s important to remember that having one or two of these symptoms does not necessarily mean you have Schizophrenia. Diagnosis is a lengthy process and can only be undertaken by trained professionals.

Symptoms are divided into two groups, “active” symptoms (also referred to as ‘positive’ or psychotic symptoms) and ‘passive’ symptoms (also referred to as ‘negative’ symptoms).

Positive/Active symptoms

These symptoms are what make up the actual “psychosis” in Schizophrenia, which is when you can perceive a very different reality to others. Some people describe this feeling as “dreaming while awake”.


These are unusual or unexplained sensations that can affect all of your senses:

  • auditory (sound),
  • visual (sight),
  • tactile (touch),
  • gustatory (taste) and
  • olfactory (smell)

For example, lights and colours may appear brighter or noises and voices louder than they appear to others.

Hearing voices or other sounds is the most common hallucination. The experience of hearing voices can be different for everyone. The voice might be one you know or one you’ve never heard. It can be female, male, in a different language, or have an unusual accent. The voice may whisper, shout or talk. They may be negative and disturbing.

You might hear voices every now and then, or you might hear them all of the time. The voices can talk to you or about you, they can be rude and abusive or, more rarely, positive and comforting. These experiences can be distressing and frightening.


Delusions are strongly held personal beliefs that are unlikely to be true. To you they will be very real but they seem odd or bizarre to others.

For example, if you are experiencing delusions you may believe that thoughts are being inserted into your mind or that you have special powers or are someone famous. You might have thoughts about being spied on, tormented, followed or tricked, or you might believe that gestures or comments are directed specifically at you.

Thought disorder

This is a change in thought patterns and is usually expressed through abnormal spoken language.

For example, you might start talking quickly or slowly, and the things you say might not make sense to other people. Your conversation might jump from one topic to another, you might create new words and your normal way of speaking might break down.

Negative / Passive Symptoms

‘Negative’ symptoms tend to be longer-lasting than positive symptoms, and they may be treated in a different way.

When experiencing the negative symptoms of Schizophrenia, you may find you have less energy and that you have lost interest in things you previously enjoyed. You may have a low sex drive and less interest in socialising. You may feel isolated and have keeping up with work, school or daily routine.

Negative symptoms can reduce your ability to express or feel emotions. This can have an impact on relationships. Your speech and facial expressions may also be affected. Your ability to respond to questions may be impaired.

What is Psychosis?

Psychosis is a word to describe a set of symptoms that include delusions, hallucinations and disturbed thinking. The experience of these symptoms is called a psychotic episode.

Psychotic episodes can vary in length: they can last for a few days; they can continue indefinitely until they are treated; they can come and go.

If you have a psychotic episode, you may be unaware that you are unwell. You may believe that what you are experiencing is actually happening – that you are being followed, that your life is at risk, or that you are being threatened, for instance. Mental health professionals call this ‘lack of insight’.

Psychosis is a symptom of schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and schizoaffective disorder. It can also be a symptom of dementia, some forms of personality disorder and Parkinson’s disease. People who abuse drugs and alcohol sometimes experience symptoms of psychosis, and psychosis can occur as a side effect of some types of medication. Psychotic experiences can be triggered by severe stress or anxiety, severe depression or sleep deprivation.


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