Schizophrenia is a mental illness that affects the way you understand and interact with the world around you.
At the beginning of an episode, people may feel that things around them seem different or strange. They may start to experience problems concentrating, thinking or communicating clearly, or taking part in their usual activities. At the height of the episode, people may experience breaks from reality called psychosis. These could be hallucinations (sensations, like voices, that aren’t real) and delusions (strong beliefs that aren’t true, like the belief that they have superpowers). Some people feel ‘flat’ or numb. They may also experience changes in mood, motivation, and the ability to complete tasks. After an episode, signs can continue for some time. People may feel restless, withdraw from others, or have a hard time concentrating.
The exact course and impact of schizophrenia is unique for each person. Some people only experience one episode in their lifetime while others experience many episodes. Some people experience periods of wellness between episodes while others may experience episodes that last a long time. No matter how someone experiences schizophrenia, researchers agree that early treatment can help reduce the impact of episodes in the future.
Schizophrenia can affect anyone. It usually starts to affect people in the teen years, though females often start to experience the illness a little later than males. No one knows exactly what causes schizophrenia or why it can affect people so differently.
While there is no cure for schizophrenia, people can and do recover. Recovery may mean learning to reduce the impact of problems, work around challenges, or maintain wellness. Most people use some combination of the following treatments and supports.
Some people need to spend time in hospital if they experience a severe episode of psychosis. This is a time to figure out the best treatment for you and begin your journey to health. Before you leave the hospital, care providers should help you map out the service providers (like doctors, counsellors, and social workers) who will be involved in your care and support your recovery.
Many people worry about their loved one’s future. The good news is that schizophrenia is treatable—and love and support can go a long way. Here are some tips for helping a loved one:
- Learn more about schizophrenia so you have a better idea of what to expect and how you can help.
- Schizophrenia can have a big impact on people’s ability to concentrate and make sense of information. Loved ones may not react to things in ways you expect or may struggle with tasks that seem simple to you. It’s okay to feel frustrated, but it isn’t anyone’s fault.
- If a loved one has trouble following conversations, choose a quiet space and speak calmly and clearly.
- It’s best to avoid arguing with delusions or hallucinations. A more helpful strategy is to focus on the feelings that delusions or hallucinations bring up.
- Ask your loved one how you can help. This may be a simple as helping with day-to-day tasks.
- Talk about dealing with emergencies when your loved one is feeling well and decide how you can contribute. Write it down in a crisis plan and share it with your care team. This is also a good time to talk about behaviours you aren’t willing to deal with.
- Set your own boundaries, and seek support for yourself when you need it.