What is schizophrenia?
You may sometimes see or hear things that don’t actually exist, or you may become convinced that people are trying to harm you even if they aren't. 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.
“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.”
Some people with schizophrenia have feelings that someone or something is out to get them. Such 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.
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; not everyone will experience the same ones. Some symptoms of schizophrenia are best described as something added to your overall mental state. These symptoms, sometimes referred to as psychotic symptoms, often involve losing 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 unusual ways, such as twitching or rocking back and forth
- Responding to questions with answers that do not make sense
- Acting in an unusual way, such as with extreme excitement or anger
Other symptoms of schizophrenia can be described as feeling, thinking, or behaving less fully than you normally would. These symptoms 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
“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.”
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, which are very similar to common effects of alcohol or drug use. If these symptoms continue after the effects of taking drugs or alcohol have 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 that 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 that can significantly improve the way you feel and how you live your daily life. It is strongly recommended that you seek professional treatment for schizophrenia.
Medicine is commonly used to treat schizophrenia, and “antipsychotic” medications have been shown to be helpful. You and your doctor can discuss the benefits and possible 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 your symptoms. 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.
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, and take your medicine as prescribed.
- Avoid excessive alcohol use, or don’t drink alcohol at all.
- Adopt an active and healthy lifestyle by eating right and exercising.
- Find ways to reduce stress in your life.
- Get the right amount of sleep.
Even severe symptoms of schizophrenia can be controlled with good treatment. However, symptoms can still occur while receiving treatment, so an ongoing relationship with a doctor will help you make any needed adjustments. Schizophrenia is a chronic condition that requires ongoing management.
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 isn't caused by a lack of self-discipline or some other 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.
“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.”
Coping with schizophrenia can be challenging. You might think others would be better off without you and or that you would be better off dead. 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 or send a text message to the Veterans Crisis Line at 838255. The Veterans Crisis Line offers free, confidential support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.
Take the next step: Make the connection.
Every day, Veterans who served in the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard connect with proven 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 doctor. Ask if your doctor has experience treating Veterans or can refer you to someone who does. If you feel comfortable enough with your physician, he or she may be able to help you find tools to manage schizophrenia even without direct experience with Veterans.
- 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 adviser
Explore these resources for more information about schizophrenia in Veterans.
Learn more about what you can do if you are experiencing specific concerns related to schizophrenia, such as trouble sleeping, relationship problems, stress and anxiety, depression, and posttraumatic stress.
If you are a combat Veteran, you can 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. In addition, any Veteran who was sexually traumatized while serving in the military is eligible to receive counseling regardless of gender or era of service.
VA Medical Center Facility Locator
VA provides world-class health care to eligible Veterans. Most Veterans qualify for cost-free health care services, although some Veterans must pay modest copays for health care or prescriptions. Explore your eligibility for health care using VA's Health Benefits Explorer tool and find out more about the treatment options available to you.