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.
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.
“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; 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 have serious thoughts of death or suicide or are thinking about hurting or killing yourself, it's important that you talk to someone right away. To reach the Veterans Crisis Line, Dial 988 then Press 1, use the online chat service, or send a text message to 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 to connect with care.
Every day, Veterans from all military service branches and eras connect with proven resources and effective treatments. Here’s how to take the next step: the one that’s right for you.
New to VA? Apply for health care benefits.
- Getting started is simple. Create a free account online to help ease your enrollment process. To prepare to apply for VA health care in person, by telephone, or by mail, explore VA’s “How to Apply” page.
- Not sure whether you are eligible for VA health care benefits? Read about eligibility for VA health care.
- Unsure of what kind of help you need? Call 1-877-222-VETS (1-877-222-8387) to find the right resources to meet your needs, Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. ET. If you have hearing loss, call TTY: 1-800-877-8339.
- Veterans’ family members and caregivers can see whether they qualify for VA medical benefits as a spouse, surviving spouse, dependent child, or caregiver. Explore family and caregiver health benefits.
Already enrolled in VA and interested in mental health support? Schedule a mental health appointment.
- If you’re already enrolled and using VA health care, the fastest way to schedule VA appointments is to call the VA facility where you want to receive care.
- With VA Appointments tools, you can schedule some VA health care appointments online, view details about upcoming appointments, and organize your health care calendar.
- If you’re not using VA medical services, contact your nearest VA medical center or Vet Center to talk about your needs.
What about other options at VA? VA offers a variety of tools and resources.
- The Veteran Training online self-help portal for overcoming everyday challenges includes modules on managing anger, developing parenting and problem-solving skills, and more.
- Mental health apps for Veterans cover a variety of topics, ranging from PTSD to anger management to quitting smoking.
- VA TeleMental Health connects you with a VA mental health provider through a computer or mobile device in your home or at your nearest VA health facility. You can learn more about this option from your local VA medical center.
- Community-based Vet Centers provide confidential counseling, community engagement and referral services to eligible individuals and their families. You don’t need to be enrolled in VA healthcare or have a service connection to receive services. Find a Vet Center near you or call 1-877-927-8387, 24/7 to talk with a fellow Veteran about your experiences.
What about support beyond VA?
There’s a whole community of support ready to help with whatever you’re going through. Use this tool to find resources near you.