Schizophrenia is a psychotic disorder. It affects brain function by changing thoughts, beliefs, perceptions, judgement and behaviour.
Symptoms may vary from one person to another. They are not always manifested at the same time. In some people, symptoms of the illness appear gradually, while in others, they come on suddenly.
In order to be associated with schizophrenia, symptoms must be continuously present and last at least 6 months.
Symptoms of schizophrenia fall into 3 categories:
Symptoms characterized by increased brain activity, which sometimes alter perception of reality
Symptoms that fall into this category include hallucinations and delusional ideas.
- Someone with hallucinations may:
- Hear one or more voices that nobody else hears.
- See things that nobody else sees.
- Smell odors that nobody else smells.
- Feel unusual physical sensations. Have the impression that he or she is being touched by an invisible person, for example.
- Someone with delusional ideas may:
- Have the impression that he or she is being watched, followed or persecuted.
- Have the impression that he or she is able to control other people’s thoughts, or that others are controlling his or hers.
- Have thinking problems. He or she may speak incoherently or jump from one subject to another, for example.
- Have behavioural problems. He or she may behave weirdly or become hostile and sometimes aggressive without motive.
Symptoms characterized by decreased reaction to and interest in usual activities
The person may:
- Lose interest in family or friends and social activities.
- Isolate him or herself increasingly.
- Neglect his or her personal hygiene.
- Lack energy and motivation. Sleep a lot and be prone to doing nothing, for example.
- Have difficulty feeling or expressing emotions.
- React to situations illogically. Laugh at sad news or cry over a funny story, for example.
Symptoms characterized by difficulty understanding, analyzing or retaining information
The person may:
- Have trouble concentrating or staying attentive.
- Forget things. Forget to fulfill daily chores, have trouble following conversations or remembering what others have said, for example.
- Have trouble planning, organizing his or her day and making decisions.
- Have trouble recognizing his or her problems and mistakes.
When to Consult
Do not wait until you are no longer able to function before consulting. If you have symptoms, there are mental health organizations and associations that can provide information and offer help and support. Read the Help and Resources section to find out what resources are available.
See your family doctor or another health professional if:
- You are experiencing distress
- Your symptoms prevent you from functioning normally.
- You have difficulty accomplishing your professional, family and social responsibilities.
A health professional can assess if you are suffering from schizophrenia or another health problem. To properly evaluate your condition, it might be necessary to conduct a physical exam or laboratory tests. You could also undergo a clinical evaluation of your mental state. You could be asked questions about what is on your mind, and your appearance and behaviour analyzed. You will be offered a treatment plan that is adapted to your needs.
If you have suicidal thoughts and fear for your safety or that of people around you, read Preventing Suicide. You will find further information on available help and resources.
Schizophrenia is a treatable disease. There are known treatments that allow people suffering from this illness to regain control of their lives and daily activities.
Many people with schizophrenia lead fulfilling lives. They feel well, without experiencing symptoms. If they do, the symptoms are less intense and better controlled. Despite the risk of relapse, they can maintain good mental health, have healthy lifestyle habits and follow their treatment.
According to recent studies, the earlier schizophrenia is detected and treated from the first symptoms, the greater the chances for a person to heal quickly. The person can thus:
- Have a healthy and fulfilling life.
- Maintain and improve relationships with people.
- Reduce the risk of experiencing other psychotic episodes.
- Have better memory and concentration.
Some people must be hospitalized if they experience a particularly acute psychotic episode.
In most cases, schizophrenia is treated with one or both of the following treatments:
Additionally, for some people, joining a support group helps with:
- Sharing experiences with others
- Breaking social isolation
- Receiving support
- Developing strategies to better control the symptoms of the illness
The support that a person with schizophrenia receives from the people around him or her is important to daily living and recovery. Their support and knowledge of the person’s situation are essential to the treatment.
Psychotherapy helps the person to better cope day to day. It helps him or her to better recognize emotions, thoughts and behaviours that affect his or her mental health. It also helps with improving social skills and communication, as well as a better understanding of the illness. Thus the person can:
- Become more independent
- Prevent relapses
- Recover faster
Medication for schizophrenia
Different medications can be used to treat symptoms of schizophrenia and prevent relapses. These medications are called “antipsychotics”.
The effects of antipsychotics
Antipsychotics are designed to restore chemical balance in the brain. They rebalance:
These medications also lower anxiety and reduce the risk of experiencing a new psychotic episode.
Recommendations regarding medication
If your doctor prescribes medication, it is important that you follow the instructions carefully.
Even if you feel better, you must continue the treatment as prescribed in order to avoid the reoccurrence of symptoms.
If you experience undesirable side effects, discuss them with your pharmacist or your doctor as soon as possible. If necessary, your medication can be adjusted or other medication may be recommended.
People suffering from schizophrenia can also experience other problems, including:
- Mood disorders
- Alcohol or drugs addiction
- Anxiety disorders
- Metabolic disorders such as diabetes, high cholesterol or hypertension. These disorders can be caused by changes to health practices, medication, and possibly the illness itself
Living with untreated schizophrenia can lead to several consequences for the person suffering from it and the people around him or her. This could:
- Have a negative impact on the person’s self-esteem
- Affect the person’s relationship with others and lead to isolation
- Increase certain risks for the person:
- Excessive consumption of alcohol and drugs. People suffering often try to control their anxieties by consuming alcohol or drugs. They can thus develop substance addiction
- Difficulty accomplishing daily tasks
- Suffering from depression and having suicidal thoughts
- Behaving in ways that could land him or her in trouble with the law or result in hospitalization
- Becoming homeless
- Experiencing greater poverty
- Increase the distress of family and friends. These people don’t always understand the person’s behaviour, which could lead to conflicts, for example
Protection and Prevention
There are simple ways to help yourself feel better. To learn more, read Maintaining Good Mental Health.
Schizophrenia doesn’t always have a single cause. It is often a combination of several factors that leads to symptoms. Here are a few of these factors:
- Heredity: Other family members have schizophrenia or have suffered from it in the past
- Alcohol and drug abuse or dependence
- Drug consumption during adolescence
- Having or being surrounded by a lot of stress
People at Risk
Schizophrenia affects 1% of the population. It usually appears between 16 and 30 years of age. It can affect anyone, regardless of age, sex, social status, education, nationality or ethnic origin.
People with schizophrenia are sometimes victims of prejudice. People wrongly believe that those with the illness are frequently aggressive or violent. Though, people with schizophrenia are often more vulnerable to abuse.
To learn more about prejudices, their consequences and how to fight them, read Fighting the Stigma Surrounding Mental Illness.
Help and Resources
Information and Support Resources
Resources are available for help and to obtain more information about schizophrenia:
- Société québécoise de la schizophrénie (in French only)
- Info-Santé 811
- Suicide-prevention helpline: 1-866-APPELLE or 1-866-277-3553
- Réseau d’entendeurs de voix du Québec – Pour les personnes qui entendent des voix et celles qui les appuient (in French only)
- Réseau avant de craquer – Fédération d’organismes voués au mieux-être de l’entourage d’une personne atteinte de maladie mentale (in French only)
- Association des médecins psychiatres du Québec (in French only)
You can also consult the Mental Health (Mental Illness) page for more available resources.
If you would like to help a loved one with a mental illness, read Living with a Person Suffering from Mental Illness. There are tips available on how to help the person while respecting your limits.
Resources for Care and Services
To receive care or services, or to find a psychotherapist with whom you feel comfortable, contact one of the following resources:
Last update: 14 November 2017, 15:36