Living with schizophrenia 

Most people with schizophrenia make a recovery, although many will experience the occasional return of symptoms (relapses).

With support and treatment, you may be able to manage your condition so it doesn't have a big impact on your life.

Spotting the signs of an acute schizophrenic episode

Learning to recognise the signs you are becoming unwell can help you manage your illness. These can include losing your appetite, feeling anxious or stressed or having disturbed sleep. You may also notice some milder symptoms developing, such as feeling suspicious or fearful, worrying about people’s motives, hearing voices quietly or occasionally, or finding concentration difficult. You may also want to ask someone you trust to tell you if they notice your behaviour changing.

Recognising initial signs of an acute schizophrenic episode can be useful, as it may be prevented through the use of antipsychotic medicines and extra support.

If you have another acute episode of schizophrenia, your written care plan should be followed, particularly any advance statement or crisis plan. Your care plan will include the likely signs of a developing relapse and the steps to take, including emergency contact numbers

Read about treating schizophrenia for information about advance statements.

Avoiding drugs and alcohol

While alcohol and drugs may provide short-term relief from your symptoms of schizophrenia, they are likely to make your symptoms worse in the long run. Alcohol can cause depression and psychosis, while illegal drugs may make your schizophrenia worse.

Drugs and alcohol can also react badly with antipsychotic medicines.

If you are currently using drugs or alcohol and finding it hard to stop, ask your care co-ordinator or GP for help.

Taking your medication

It is important to take your medication as prescribed, even if you start to feel better. Continuous medication can help prevent relapses. If you have questions or concerns about medication you are taking or any side effects, talk to your GP or care co-ordinator.

It may also be useful to read the information leaflet that comes with the medication about possible interactions with other drugs or supplements. It is worth checking with your healthcare team if you plan to take any over-the-counter remedies, such as painkillers, or any nutritional supplements. This is because these can sometimes interfere with your medication.

Regular reviews

As part of the care programme approach, you will be in contact with your healthcare team regularly. A good relationship with the team means you can easily discuss your symptoms or concerns. The more the team knows, the more it can help you.

Self-care

Self-care is an integral part of daily life. It means you take responsibility for your own health and wellbeing with support from those involved in your care.

Self-care includes things you do each day to stay fit, maintain good physical and mental health, prevent illness or accidents, and effectively deal with minor ailments and long-term conditions.

People living with long-term conditions can benefit enormously if they have support for self-care. They can live longer, have less pain, anxiety, depression and fatigue, have a better quality of life and are more active and independent.

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Healthy living hide

Keep healthy

As well as monitoring your mental health, your healthcare team and GP should monitor your physical health. A healthy lifestyle, including a balanced diet with lots of fruits and vegetables and regular exercise, is good for you and can reduce your risk of developing cardiovascular disease or diabetes.

Avoid too much stress and get a proper amount of sleep.

You should have a check-up at least once a year to monitor your risk of developing cardiovascular disease or diabetes. This will include recording your weight, checking your blood pressure and any appropriate blood tests.

Stop smoking

Rates of smoking in people with schizophrenia are three times higher than in the general population. If you are a smoker, you are at a higher risk of developing cancer, heart disease and stroke.

Stopping smoking has both short- and long-term health benefits. Research has shown that you are up to four times more likely to quit smoking if you use NHS support as well as stop-smoking medicines, such as patches, gum or inhalators. Ask your doctor about this or go to the NHS Smokefree website.

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Who is available to help me? show

In the course of your treatment for schizophrenia, you will be involved with many different services. Some are accessed through referral from your GP, others through your local authority. These services may include the following:

  • Community mental health teams (CMHTs) provide the main part of local specialist mental health services and offer assessment, treatment and social care to people living with schizophrenia and other mental illnesses.
  • Early intervention teams provide early identification and treatment for people with the first symptoms of psychosis. Your GP may be able to refer you directly to an early intervention team. 
  • Crisis services allow people to be treated at home, instead of in hospital, for an acute episode of illness. They are specialist mental health teams that help with crises that occur outside normal office hours.
  • Acute day hospitals are an alternative to inpatient care in a hospital, where you can visit every day or as often as necessary.
  • Assertive outreach teams deliver intensive treatment and rehabilitation in the community for people with severe mental health problems. They provide rapid help in a crisis situation. Staff often visit people at home, act as advocates and liaise with other services, such as your GP or social services. They can also help with practical problems, such as helping to find housing and work, and daily tasks, such as shopping and cooking.
  • Advocates are trained and experienced workers who help people communicate their needs or wishes, get impartial information, and represent their views to other people. Advocates can be based in your hospital or mental health support groups, or you can find an independent advocate to act on your behalf, if you wish.

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Employment and financial support show

Avoid too much stress, including work-related stress. If you are employed, you may be able to work shorter hours or in a more flexible way.

 Under the Equality Act 2010, all employers must make reasonable adjustments for people with disabilities, including people diagnosed with schizophrenia or other mental illnesses.

Several organisations provide support, training and advice for people with schizophrenia who wish to continue working. Your community mental health team is a good first point of contact to find out what services and support are available for you. Mental health charities such as Mind or Rethink are also an excellent source of information on training and employment.

If you are unable to work as a result of your mental illness, you are entitled to financial support, such as Incapacity Benefit.

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Talk to others show

Many people find it helpful to meet other people with the same experiences for mutual support and to share ideas. It is also an important reminder that you are not alone.

Charities and support groups allow individuals and families to share experiences and coping strategies, campaign for better services and provide support. Useful charities, support groups and associations include:

Other places that offer support to people with schizophrenia and other mental illnesses include:

Day centres

Even if you do not have a job or are unable to work, it is still important to go out and do everyday things and provide a structure to your week. Many people regularly go to a day hospital, day centre or community mental health centre. These offer a range of activities that enable you to get active again and spend some time in the company of other people.

Work projects

These provide training to help you develop your work skills and support you back into work. They often have contacts with local employers.

Supported accommodation

This could be a bedsit or flat where there is someone around who is trained to support you and help you deal with day-to-day problems.

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What can family, friends and partners do to help? show

Friends, relatives and partners have a vital role in helping people with schizophrenia recover and make a relapse less likely.

It is very important not to blame the person with schizophrenia or tell them to “pull themselves together”, or to blame other people. When dealing with a friend or loved one’s mental illness, it is important to stay positive and supportive.

As well as supporting the person with schizophrenia, you may want to get support to cope with your own feelings. Several voluntary organisations provide help and support for carers.

Friends and family should try to understand what schizophrenia is, how it affects people, and how best they can help. They can provide emotional and practical support, and can encourage people to seek appropriate support and treatment. As part of the treatment, you may be offered family therapy. This can provide information and support for the person with schizophrenia and their family.

Friends and family can play a major role by monitoring the person’s mental state, watching out for any signs of relapse, encouraging them to take their medication and attend medical appointments.

If you are the nearest relative of a person who has schizophrenia, you have certain rights that can be used to protect the patient's interests. These include requesting that the local social services authority ask an approved mental health professional to consider whether the person with schizophrenia should be detained in hospital.

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Depression and suicide show

Many people with schizophrenia experience periods of depression. Do not ignore these symptoms. If depression is not treated, it can worsen and lead to suicidal thoughts.

Studies have shown that people with schizophrenia have a higher chance of commiting suicide.

If you have been feeling particularly down over the last month and no longer take pleasure in the things you used to enjoy, you may be depressed. See your GP for advice and treatment.

Immediately report any suicidal thoughts to your GP or care co-ordinator.

The warning signs of suicide

The warning signs that people with depression and schizophrenia may be considering suicide include:

  • making final arrangements, such as giving away possessions, making a will or saying goodbye to friends
  • talking about death or suicide. This may be a direct statement such as, "I wish I was dead," or indirect phrases such as "I think that dead people must be happier than us" or "Wouldn't it be nice to go to sleep and never wake up?"
  • self-harm, such as cutting their arms or legs or burning themselves with cigarettes
  • a sudden lifting of mood, which could mean that a person has decided to commit suicide and feels better because of their decision

Helping a suicidal friend or relative

If you see any of these warning signs:

  • Get professional help for the person, such as from a crisis resolution team (CRT) or the duty psychiatrist at your local A&E department.
  • Let them know that they are not alone and that you care about them.
  • Offer your support in finding other solutions to their problems.

If you feel that there is an immediate danger of the person committing suicide, stay with them or have someone else stay with them and remove all available means of suicide, such as sharp objects and medication.

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Accessing therapy

Find out how to access the talking therapies that might be provided near you

Mental health and pregnancy

Find out who is more at risk of mental health problems and were you can go for help

Mental health helplines

Whether you're concerned about yourself or a loved one, these helplines can offer expert advice

Find mental health support

Anxious, depressed or having problems coping? Find out how to get help

Page last reviewed: 17/09/2012

Next review due: 17/09/2014