What is schizophrenia? An in-depth understanding

Schizophrenia is a complex and often misunderstood mental health condition that one in 100 Australians live with, and one in 300 people live with worldwide. In this guide, we will explain what schizophrenia is, look at causes and risk factors, as well as treatment and management options and common misconceptions.

If you believe you might be living with schizophrenia, it is important that you visit a health care provider as soon as possible to receive a diagnosis and proper treatment.

Let's get started.

What is schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia is a chronic brain disorder that affects how a person thinks, feels, and behaves. It typically disrupts thoughts and emotions, and distorts a person's perception of reality.

It is a complex disorder that can be difficult to diagnose, and its symptoms can vary widely from person to person.

Symptoms of schizophrenia typically emerge in late adolescence or early adulthood.

Between 20-30% of people living with schizophrenia go through a few episodes, while for most people it is a chronic condition.

Symptoms of schizophrenia

The symptoms of schizophrenia can be divided into three categories: positive symptoms, negative symptoms, and cognitive symptoms.

Research describes positive symptoms as reflecting an excess or distortion of normal function, and negative symptoms as a reduction or absence of normal behaviours related to motivation and interest or expression.

  • Positive symptoms include: delusions, hallucinations, and disorganised thinking and speech.
  • Negative symptoms include: a lack of motivation, emotional expression, and pleasure in everyday activities, and cognitive symptoms include problems with memory, attention, and decision-making.

If you think that yourself, or someone you know are experiencing any of these symptoms, it's extremely important that you visit a healthcare provider such as your GP, or a mental health care professional.

They will be able to provide you with a correct diagnosis, followed by a treatment plan designed to suit your specific needs.

To take a more in-depth look at the symptoms of schizophrenia, explore our blog on schizophrenia symptoms and how to know if you have it.

Related disorders

There are some disorders that are related to schizophrenia, but are slightly different due to how long symptoms have been present and if there are also signs of a mood disorder.

Related conditions include:

  • Schizophreniform – A short-term mental health condition that involves psychotic symptoms similar to those seen in schizophrenia, that lasts less than 6 months. This is often early schizophrenia, as two-thirds of people with this disorder go on to develop schizophrenia.
  • Schizoaffective disorder – Schizoaffective disorder is a mental health condition that is a combination of schizophrenia and a mood disorder, such as depression or bipolar disorder. This is an extremely rare and serious condition.

If you believe you or someone you know might be living with either of these conditions, it is important that you visit a healthcare professional as soon as possible.

The sooner schizophrenia is diagnosed, the sooner effective treatment and management can begin and you can start getting back to living life on your terms.

Causes of schizophrenia

The exact causes of schizophrenia are not yet fully understood, and there is no single cause, however the three main reasons experts suspect schizophrenia occurs include:

  • Chemical imbalances in your brain, specifically relating to the chemical signals used for communication between your cells
  • Brain development issues, that occur before you are born
  • Lost connections between different parts of your brain

Schizophrenia risk factors

Some of the factors that can increase your risk of developing schizophrenia include:

  • Environmental factors – exposure to stress and to certain viruses or bacteria can increase the risk of developing schizophrenia.
  • Substance abuse – regular use of drugs or alcohol can increase the risk of developing schizophrenia.
  • Neurodevelopmental and birth factors – development before birth, and birth circumstances such as your mother having gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, malnutrition or deficiency in vitamin D while she was pregnant can all impact the risk of schizophrenia developing.

Treatment and management options for schizophrenia

If you think you might be living with schizophrenia, it is important that you seek help from a healthcare professional.

While there is no cure for the condition, there are several treatment options available that can help manage symptoms and improve your quality of life.

Let's take a look at some of the common treatments available.


Antipsychotic medications are often used to treat the positive symptoms of schizophrenia, such as delusions and hallucinations.

These medications block how your brain uses some chemicals to communicate between cells.

It is extremely important that you only take medication that has been prescribed to you by a health professional, such as your doctor or mental health care provider.


Therapy can also be an effective treatment for schizophrenia.

Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) can help people with schizophrenia learn to manage their symptoms and improve their social and communication skills.

Family therapy can also be helpful in improving communication and relationships between family members.

Self-care strategies

Self-care strategies, such as regular exercise, stress management, and support groups, can also be helpful in managing the symptoms of schizophrenia.

These strategies can help you feel more in control of your life and improve your overall well-being.

Common misconceptions surrounding schizophrenia

Schizophrenia is an often misunderstood condition, which can make living with this condition even more challenging.

Some of the most common misconceptions include:

Schizophrenia is a split personality

Contrary to common belief, schizophrenia is not the same as multiple personality disorder.

People with schizophrenia do not have multiple personalities, but rather experience a range of symptoms that affect their thoughts, feelings, and behaviours.

People with schizophrenia are violent

Another common misconception about schizophrenia is that people with the disorder are violent or dangerous.

However, research has shown that people with schizophrenia are no more likely to be violent than the general population.

You can't work if you have schizophrenia

While living with schizophrenia can make finding and keeping work a little more difficult, with the right support it is possible to find a meaningful and fulfilling career.

There is also professional help available if you need extra support in finding and keeping a job that works for you, such as APM Disability Employment Services.

There is no hope of successfully managing schizophrenia

It is important to understand that schizophrenia is not a hopeless condition.

With the right treatment and support, many people with schizophrenia are able to manage their symptoms and lead fulfilling lives.

Support resources

If you or someone you know is living with schizophrenia, there are many resources available to support you along your journey.

Some available supports include:

If you or someone you know are in immediate danger, always call 000.

It is important to remember that while living with schizophrenia can be difficult, there is hope – with the right treatment and support, many people are able to manage their symptoms and lead fulfilling lives.

Remember that if you are living with schizophrenia, there are a range of support resources available to help you when you need it.