No two people experience schizophrenia the same, but auditory hallucinations, visual hallucinations, and delusions are commonly reported.
Schizophrenia is a chronic mental health condition that causes a person to experience episodes of psychosis — which cause symptoms such as hallucinations and delusions — as well as trouble functioning in everyday life. Even though schizophrenia only affects a little less than 1% of people worldwide, it’s still one of the leading causes of disability, according to the
But what exactly is it like living with the symptoms of schizophrenia, and how does this condition affect someone’s quality of life? Below, we’ll discuss what schizophrenia is like, how to support someone with the condition, and how to get help if you feel like you might have symptoms of schizophrenia.
Schizophrenia symptoms can differ from person to person, both in type and severity, so one person’s experience with the condition might be entirely different from what another person experiences. However, we do know that people with schizophrenia commonly report experiencing hallucinations and delusions, two symptoms that can feel quite scary and confusing.
A 2022 article published in Psychiatry International explored the lived experience of someone with schizophrenia.
- Auditory hallucinations were described as angry, conflicting voices that caused “constant internal criticism.”
- Visual hallucinations, which were described as “dots, visions, and shadows,” seemed to worsen and warp into even more elaborate images as the condition worsened.
- Delusions, although fanciful in nature, were described as feeling “plausible, believable, and factual” at the time.
Of course, this experience is just one example of how schizophrenia symptoms can present, so it doesn’t necessarily describe the experience of everyone with schizophrenia. But symptoms like the ones described above, such as hearing constant voices, seeing elaborate images, and experiencing bizarre thoughts, aren’t an uncommon experience.
Getting support for schizophrenia
If you or someone you love has received a diagnosis of schizophrenia, there are several resources for treatment and support available:
- The MentalHealth.gov website has a page dedicated to getting
mental health help.
- The NIMH has a page for
mental health education.
- The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has a treatment locator tool.
- The National Alliance on Mental Illness has a page for working with mental health conditions.
Schizophrenia generally causes two types of symptoms: positive symptoms (sometimes called psychotic symptoms) and negative symptoms.
- Positive symptoms include changes in thoughts, behaviors, or experiences.
- Negative symptoms refer to a reduced ability to function normally.
Hallucinations are a positive symptom of schizophrenia in which a person may see, hear, or sense things that aren’t there. Although these hallucinations aren’t rooted in consensus reality, they feel extremely real to the person who’s experiencing them. According to the National Health Service, the most common type of hallucination that people with schizophrenia experience is hearing voices.
When schizophrenia symptoms return or become worse — especially after a period of remission — it’s known as a relapse. In one study of more than 1,200 young people experiencing a first episode of psychosis, 37.7% of study participants experienced at least one relapse during the course of the 6-year study.
Several factors can contribute to a relapse of schizophrenia symptoms. For example, things such as increased stress from life changes and skipping or stopping medication both appear to increase the risk of a relapse. However, researchers are still studying these factors to determine exactly what factors might impact the relapse rate of schizophrenia.
People who have formally received a schizophrenia diagnosis know that they have the condition and are likely aware of what their symptoms might look like during a relapse.
But during an episode of psychosis, most people are unaware that what they’re experiencing can’t be heard or seen by others. In fact, when someone is in an episode of psychosis, the hallucinations, delusions, and other symptoms are often indistinguishable from consensus reality, which is something that may be because of changes in the brain’s self-awareness, according to older research from 2013.
How to support someone with schizophrenia
If someone you love has received a diagnosis of schizophrenia, it’s natural to be concerned, especially if you’re a partner or a parent. But you should know that many people living with schizophrenia can lead fulfilling lives — socially, occupationally, and otherwise — with treatment and support.
There are many ways you can assist someone with schizophrenia. Whether that involves helping them schedule an appointment with a doctor or healthcare professional, giving them a hand with chores around the house, or driving them to the emergency room during a health event, your support can be crucial in helping them get better.
It’s also important to know the symptoms of psychosis so that you can support your loved one in receiving the care they need if they experience a relapse.
Sometimes, yes. According to a study from 2020, 15% of people with schizophrenia experienced hearing voices that were largely positive in nature. Most of the time, this was reported as voices that paid them compliments, made them laugh, or helped with their jobs or studies.
While your experience of reality may always be different from those without schizophrenia, there’s no reason you can’t enjoy it. Medication and regular psychotherapy can help you develop ways of coping with the harmful symptoms of schizophrenia and shifting your perspective on others.
Awareness around symptoms is something that’s highly variable.
Depending on the severity of symptoms and how they present, it’s possible for some people with schizophrenia to recognize that some of what they hear and see can’t be perceived by others. This awareness may vary depending on whether they’re in a period of psychosis or remission.
When someone is having an episode of psychosis for the first time, it can be difficult for them to be aware of what they’re experiencing. So, if your family, friends, or loved ones have become concerned with your actions or behaviors recently — even if you don’t understand why — it never hurts to reach out for support.
Speaking with a trained mental health professional can help you determine if you’re dealing with the symptoms of schizophrenia or something else such as bipolar disorder.
Schizophrenia symptoms can vary from person to person and can sometimes feel quite disorienting and scary, especially if the person is unaware of what they’re experiencing. Hearing voices is the most common, but other types of hallucinations or delusions are also reported.
Understanding what these symptoms look and feel like can help remove some of that fear and empower someone to get the treatment they need to manage their condition. A therapist or psychiatrist can help you establish a treatment plan that works for you.