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West London NHS Trust > Patients and carers > Mental and physical health conditions > Schizophrenia


What is schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia is a complex and often severe mental illness that affects different people in different ways.

It changes a person’s feelings, thoughts and behaviour. Some people have hallucinations (hearing and seeing things that don’t exist) and experience delusions (believing things that aren’t true). Others experience their thoughts and actions being controlled. Depressive or suicidal thoughts and a lack of motivation can be the biggest difficulties for many, and the hardest things to cope with.
Many people with schizophrenia live full lives for most of which they are well. Others cope well between periodic episodes during which the condition intensifies. Some experience the symptoms as persistent and debilitating, and it can take time to find the right medication and support to manage them.
Contrary to public perception, the vast majority of people do not behave aggressively; they are much more likely to be withdrawn. The link between schizophrenia and violent crime is often exaggerated when, in fact, it is very rare and those with schizophrenia are more likely to harm themselves than others.
How common is schizophrenia?
It affects around 1 in 100 people – just slightly less than diabetes. Symptoms tend to develop in early adulthood.
Why is it important to get treatment?
Early diagnosis and treatment of schizophrenia are believed to improve the outcome. With treatment a person can often learn to cope with everyday life, work and relationships, regardless of whether or not they are experiencing symptoms. If the condition remains untreated for long periods, remission and recovery can take much longer and there may even be permanent damage to the brain. But it’s the social disruption which can make recovery more difficult, because the person becomes more socially isolated and loses the support networks that are so important for anyone’s well-being.
Living with schizophrenia
Some people experience a single episode, followed by recovery. Some have periods of being very unwell, but are able to live relatively normal lives in between these periods with medication and support. For a small group, the illness is more or less constant with varying intensity.
Making sure a person feels included in society is an important part of care at WLMHT. The care team will help them develop the skills they need to manage their schizophrenia and not become isolated whilst experiencing symptoms. For this reason, the WLMHT care team also like to include carers in planning treatment, if appropriate. Well-organised support can be the encouragement and consistency a person needs to manage their symptoms, be actively involved with the world and develop relationships that give meaning to their life.
Treatment can show a person how to manage schizophrenia in a way that works specifically for them. We aim to give people hope that they can lead a fulfilling life and develop lasting relationships.
Care at WLMHT
When a person, with schizophrenia, comes for treatment and support at WLMHT, a team, typically made up of a doctor, nurse, social worker, psychologist and other therapists, will discuss the different treatment options available with the person. They will then individual care plan, which reflects the particular needs and wishes of that person.
If a person isn’t able or willing to be involved in decisions about treatment, doctors will make decisions in their best interest. Sometimes, this means they have to use the powers given to them under the Mental Health Act (MHA) to ensure that the person stays in hospital and receives the medication they need. When this happens, there are numerous safeguards which ensure that as soon as they no longer present a risk to themselves or to others, they are able to leave hospital.
When a person starts to improve it can be very tempting to stop taking medication. Care plans tend to take a longer term view and we encourage people to stick with them, as symptoms can return rapidly and recovery is set back. Part of having schizophrenia can be a lack of awareness of the illness, so we always want to involve carers in a person’s treatment decisions.
The focus at WLMHT is on the whole person, not just the symptoms, and on developing a person’s coping skills so they can maintain independence and better manage their symptoms. This includes taking into account each person’s diverse needs, personal treatment preferences and lifestyle factors.
Research at WLMHT
WLMHT is one of the most research-active mental health trusts in the UK. Research into the very early symptoms of mental illnesses is one of the priority areas for researchers at WLMHT. Patients and carers receiving treatment through our clinical service often benefit from participating in research, and we encourage them to ask their doctor or nurse what research studies may be suitable for them.