What is schizophrenia?
You may sometimes see or hear things that don’t actually exist, or become convinced people are trying to harm you even if they are not. You or others might notice that you are having a hard time thinking clearly or making sense when you speak. If you have had experiences like this, you may be dealing with schizophrenia.
Some people with schizophrenia have feelings that someone or something is out to get them. These paranoid feelings can make it very hard to trust others and can have a huge effect on personal relationships. Because schizophrenia may get in the way of your ability to make good decisions, it is absolutely necessary that you seek treatment and assistance—and follow your doctor’s advice.
“My family found it hard to talk with me because what I said made no sense and I wasn’t able to follow most conversations.”
Research shows many people with schizophrenia can recover when correctly diagnosed and treated. Most people with schizophrenia are able to complete school, work, have relationships, and live independently. The sooner you get help, the better your recovery is likely to be.
What are the signs of schizophrenia?
People with schizophrenia can have a variety of symptoms and not everyone will experience the same ones. Some of the symptoms of schizophrenia are referred to as “positive” or “negative” symptoms; however, “positive” and “negative” don’t mean “good” and “bad.”
Positive symptoms of schizophrenia are best described as something added to your overall mental state. Positive symptoms can also be referred to as psychotic symptoms. People with positive symptoms often lose touch with reality. They may include:
- Hearing or seeing things that do not exist, commonly called hallucinations
- Firmly believing something to be true when it is actually false, also known as delusions
- Moving your body in odd ways, such as twitching or rocking back and forth
- Responding to questions with answers that do not make sense
- Acting in an unusual way, like extreme excitement or anger
“The line between schizophrenia’s symptoms and those for some other conditions can be very thin at times. That’s why we have to rely on each other, our doctors, and our families to keep our mental health in check.”
Negative symptoms of schizophrenia can be described as having less of a feeling, thought, or behavior than you normally would. They may include:
- Feeling like you have no emotions
- Having incomplete thoughts
- Letting your personal hygiene go unattended
- Getting no enjoyment or pleasure out of life
Schizophrenia can also affect your thinking and make it difficult to focus, pay attention, or make plans. These are referred to as “cognitive” symptoms of schizophrenia.
Feelings very similar to these symptoms can sometimes happen as a result of alcohol or drug use. If they continue after the drugs or alcohol has worn off, and when you are no longer using these substances, it may be a sign of schizophrenia.
What is the treatment for schizophrenia?
Finding out you have schizophrenia and experiencing its symptoms for the first time can be very difficult and scary, but there are many effective schizophrenia treatments and assistance options available to you that can produce significant improvements in the way you feel and how you live your daily life.
Medicine is commonly used to treat schizophrenia, and “antipsychotic” medications have been shown to be helpful, especially with positive schizophrenia symptoms. You and your doctor can discuss the benefits and side effects of medicines available for schizophrenia.
Many Veterans also find therapy or counseling to be a great help when dealing with the symptoms of schizophrenia. Cognitive-behavioral therapy can help you learn ways to deal with positive or negative symptoms you may have. Counseling can also help you improve your personal relationships and manage schizophrenia symptoms so they interfere less with your everyday life. You and your family might find it helpful to attend family support groups to work on strategies for dealing with the stress of schizophrenia.
Given the nature of schizophrenia, it is strongly recommended that you seek professional treatment. In addition to treatment, you can adjust your lifestyle to help manage schizophrenia symptoms. When recovering from schizophrenia, you should:
- Only use drugs prescribed by your doctor
- Avoid excessive alcohol use, or don’t drink alcohol at all
- Lead an active and healthy lifestyle by eating right and exercising
- Find ways to reduce stress in your life
- Get the right amount of sleep
What can I do if I think I have schizophrenia?
You might think that what you’re going through is just a phase that will be over soon. However, schizophrenia is not something that will simply pass on its own—it needs to be taken very seriously and treated. It’s important to remember that schizophrenia is not your fault, and it’s definitely not the result of a character flaw.
Your close friends and family may be the first to notice that things don’t seem right or that you’re having a tough time. Consider what they have to say and turn to them when you are ready to talk. It can be helpful to share what you’re experiencing, and they may be able to provide support and help you find treatment that is right for you.
Coping with schizophrenia can be challenging. You might think others would be better off without you and consider suicide. These thoughts are very serious and need immediate attention. It’s important that you talk to someone right away if you have thoughts of death or suicide. If you are thinking about hurting yourself, call the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1. You can also use the Veterans Crisis Line online chat. Both services provide free, confidential support 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Take the next step – Make the connection.
“My husband did a lot of things in the military but the bravest thing I ever saw him do was admit that some of his ‘issues’ were more serious than he let on.”
Every day, Veterans connect with helpful resources and effective treatments for schizophrenia and find solutions that improve their lives. There’s no reason to try to handle schizophrenia on your own so talking to your family and friends can be a vital first step. You can also consider connecting with:
- Your family doctor: Ask if your doctor has experience treating Veterans or can refer you to someone who does
- A mental health professional, such as a therapist or counselor
- Your local VA Medical Center or Vet Center: VA specializes in the care and treatment of Veterans
- A spiritual or religious advisor
Explore these resources for more information about schizophrenia in Veterans.
Learn more about schizophrenia and how it can be related to other issues such as trouble sleeping, relationship problems, stress and anxiety, depression, and posttraumatic stress.
If you are a combat Veteran or experienced any sexual trauma during your military service, bring your DD214 to your local Vet Center and speak with a counselor or therapist—many of whom are Veterans themselves—for free, without an appointment, and regardless of your enrollment status with VA.
VA Medical Center Facility Locator
This website will allow you to search for VA programs located near you. If you are eligible to receive care through the Veterans Health Administration, you can enroll in one of VA’s schizophrenia treatment programs.