Text size:


Schizophrenia is a mental illness that is made up of positive and negative symptoms. This doesn't mean some are good and some are bad, instead it means that some symptoms are things that are there but shouldn't be (positive), and some symptoms are things that are missing but should be there (negative).

Schizophrenia is called a psychotic disorder. This means the people who have it often find it hard to tell the difference between reality and what is in their own mind.

There is a perception in society that people with schizophrenia are dangerous to others. In fact most people with schizophrenia are rarely violent and are more likely to be a danger to themselves, either because they are unable to concentrate on looking after themselves properly, or because they can develop suicidal thoughts.

About 1 in 100 people will have a schizophrenic episode at some point in their lives, and two-thirds of these will go on to have further episodes.

Each person with schizophrenia will have a different combination of symptoms and each symptom might be very specific to that person.

Positive Symptoms

Positive symptoms are things that someone with schizophrenia experiences that most people do not. These tend to be things like delusions, abnormal thinking or hallucinations, but also include changes in speech and behaviour.


Delusions are abnormal beliefs that a person holds without any proof. These can be supernatural or magical and are often very unusual. Many experts believe that these beliefs are based on ways of rationalising abnormal perceptions which the person may experience. Delusions vary from person to person, although some similar beliefs can occur in a number of people. For example, a number of people with schizophrenia believe that their loved ones have been replaced by imposters (called Capgras delusion).


Hallucinations are experiences that a person perceives even though there is nothing really there. In schizophrenia this usually means hearing voices in your mind which are not your own (known as auditory hallucinations). These voices tend to say very negative things and can be quite frightening for the person hearing them. Sometimes the voices will tell a person things that aren't true or may tell the person to do something.

Negative Symptoms

Negative symptoms are characteristics that are missing in a person with schizophrenia that should be found in most people who don't have schizophrenia. These symptoms include a loss of interest and enjoyment in activities, reduced expression of emotion in facial expressions and speech, and a lack of concentration.

The exact causes of schizophrenia are unknown, but research suggests that a combination of physical, genetic, psychological and environmental factors can make people more likely to develop the condition.

Current thinking is that some people may be particularly prone to schizophrenia, and that a stressful or emotional life event might trigger a psychotic episode. However it is not known why some people develop symptoms while others do not.

If you have schizophrenia, or think you might have it, speaking to your GP is important to understand what treatment might work best for your symptoms.

Because schizophrenia is thought to be linked with problems with the balance of chemicals in the brain, there are medications that can help restore this balance and help with some of the symptoms.

As well as medication, people with schizophrenia will sometimes be referred by their GP to have day-to-day help from community mental health teams and may also undertake Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), family therapy or art therapy. 

Please see the Other information and Advice page for organisations and services that support people with experience of mental health issues. 

Last updated: 09/07/2021