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Mental health: schizophrenia

Find out more about this illness with our Q&A.

Q: How common are mental health issues?

A: During the course of any year, one in four people will experience some type of mental health problem.

Q: …and schizophrenia?

A: It is estimated that about one in 100 people will have one episode of schizophrenia. Two-thirds of them will go on to experience further episodes.

Q: Is it more common in older or younger people?

A: It usually starts when someone is in their late teens or early 20s. That said, schizophrenia can also occur for the first time in older people, too.

Q: What causes it?

A: We don't really know. However, episodes of schizophrenia seem to be linked to changes in chemicals in the brain. For some people, an episode can be triggered by having a stressful experience or by taking recreational drugs.

Q: What are the symptoms?

A: An episode of schizophrenia can cause the individual to lose touch with reality. This includes seeing and hearing things that aren't really there, and having irrational thoughts and convictions.

They can start to act strangely in response to these hallucinations or delusions. An episode can last for several weeks, and the symptoms can be very unnerving and frightening.

Q: What about “hearing voices”?

A: According to the Mental Health Foundation (MHF), doctors generally define hearing voices as a symptom of a medical illness. The charity states that “many people hear voices but never find them a problem or need to seek help from mental health services”. You'll find more information from the MHF about hearing voices here.

Q: Is schizophrenia treatable?

A: Yes, and most people with schizophrenia are prescribed drugs to reduce their symptoms. However, these may be long-term prescriptions and the drugs can cause side-effects. Some patients require a lot of help in managing their symptoms. Others use self-management techniques – or may find their own ways of coping with their symptoms, without feeling the need to seek treatment.

Further information and help

If you or someone you are caring for is experiencing a mental health problem, contact your GP. In an emergency go to A&E at your local hospital or dial 999. For those who are already in contact with their community mental health team, get in touch with them.

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