Information partly from www.rethink.org, Factsheet schizophrenia

Schizophrenia is a mental illness which occurs when the parts of the brain responsible for emotion and sensation stop working properly. The illness can develop slowly and a person may stop living their normal life, withdrawing from people, losing interest in things and possibly having angry outbursts. Schizophrenia often develops during late adolescence so such behaviour may seem like a normal ‘phase’. It is often only when other symptoms of schizophrenia, like psychosis (hallucinations and delusions) become apparent, that a mental illness might be recognised.

The first acute episode can be a devastating experience, particularly as both the person experiencing the illness and those close to them will be unprepared. About one in a hundred people world-wide experience at least one such episode at some time during their lives, and it typically first starts in early adulthood, although it can affect someone of any age. Up to 30% of people with schizophrenia may have a lasting recovery, and 20% may show significant improvement. Around 50% of people diagnosed with schizophrenia will have a long-term illness, varying in severity, which may involve further episodes of becoming unwell, or may be more constant.

It is worth noting here that ‘recovery’ may be interpreted differently. For some, it may mean a medical recovery, in the sense of remission. However, recovery is often used in another sense with regards to mental health. It can be defined as the concept of a process of building a meaningful life as defined by the person with a mental health problem themselves. There is a lot of information about this form of recovery on the Rethink Mental Illness website www.rethink.org.

In schizophrenia the activity of chemicals (neurotransmitters) in the brain is unusual, and this may be a clue to the causes of the disorder. During what is referred to as "an acute episode", experience and thought processes become distorted. When severe, this can lead to intense panic, anger, depression, elation or over activity, possibly with periods of withdrawal between. It is not surprising that other people, particularly family and friends find the changes difficult to understand and may be devastated themselves.

One common misconception is that schizophrenia is the result of 'split personality'. In fact, schizophrenia is not split personality, nor does it relate to ‘multiple’ or any other personality disorder. The mistake comes from the fact that the name 'schizophrenia' was coined from two Greek words meaning 'split' and 'mind'. It was intended to represent the fact that processes of thought, feeling and intention which guide peoples’ actions no longer interact to form a coherent whole.