Promoting mental health, demystifying mental illness, countering stigma and discrimination


What is Schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia is an enduring mental illness affecting about 30,000 New Zealanders. It is a serious condition marked by a disorder of thought, perception and mood. A person with Schizophrenia may have episodes where they lose contact with reality. This is called psychosis. Some people may experience only a few acute episodes and then fully recover. Others may have to deal with symptoms throughout their lives.

There are several types of Schizophrenia and a Psychiatrist will prescribe a treatment plan best suited to the individuals symptoms.

What are the symptoms of Schizophrenia?

The onset of Schizophrenia can be quite sudden. It may also happen slowly, with the person's ability to function in everyday life declining over a number of years, and with a very gradual onset of the symptoms of psychosis over months or perhaps years.

Schizophrenia is often referred to as a psychotic disorder. 'Psychosis' is a word that describes the symptoms associated with losing touch with reality. The main psychotic symptoms of schizophrenia include:

These are false, inaccurate beliefs that a person holds onto or adheres to even when he/she is presented with accurate information.


The person hears, feels, smells or tastes something that is not actually there. The most common form is auditory, where a person hears voices that no one else can hear.

Thought Disorder

When acutely ill, people with psychotic symptoms experience disordered thinking. The everyday thoughts that allow us to live our daily lives become confused and don't join up properly. Thought disorder may also be accompanied by inappropriate emotional responses as words and moods do not match, and the person may laugh when they are speaking of a serious or frightening event.

These symptoms are not necessarily constant, but appear every now and then during acute episodes. Regular medication and ongoing support tend to reduce the number of relapses a person experiences.

What causes Schizophrenia

The causes of Schizophrenia are not fully understood. They are likely to be a combination of heredity and other factors. It is probable that some people are born with a predisposition to develop this kind of illness and certain things, for example, stress or misuse of drugs such as marijuana, LSD or speed can trigger their first episode.

How many people develop Schizophrenia?

Approximately 1 in every 100 people develop Schizophrenia. It most often begins between the ages of 15 and 30 years, occurring for the first time slightly earlier in men. Schizophrenia happens in about the same numbers across all ethnic groups. In New Zealand, about 500 new cases of schizophrenia are reported every year.

How is Schizophrenia diagnosed?

Schizophrenia is usually diagnosed when a person's disorganised thinking and/or bizarre behaviour brings them to the attention of a medical or mental health professional. Sometimes, the person is brought in involuntarily for assessment and treatment. The mental health professional arrives at the diagnosis of schizophrenia by conducting a mental health status examination and by taking a very careful personal history of the patient/client.

There is no medical test to diagnose schizophrenia. A diagnosis is made when the person has some or all of a set of symptoms. For this reason it is very important for a health professional to get a full understanding of the difficulties a person has had, from both the person and their family/whanau or others who know them well.

Before Schizophrenia can be diagnosed, the symptoms or signs must have been present for at least six months, with symptoms of psychosis for at least one month.

How is Schizophrenia treated?

Early detection and accurate assessment are vital to early intervention. Medications, called 'antipsychotic medications' are the cornerstone of treatment.  Some people experience unwanted side effects; however these may be alleviated by lifestyle management or other medication.  New anti-psychotic drugs now available offer the possibility of more effective treatments with fewer side effects.  Inpatient support may be necessary during acute relapses or while medication is being adjusted.  Follow up from a specialist mental health multidisciplinary team is critical in the first two years, to monitor treatment response, provide education, support and prevent relapse.

What happens to people with Schizophrenia?

The course of Schizophrenia varies greatly. Some people will have one brief episode and have no further problems during their lifetime. Others may suffer from the condition throughout much of their lives. Schizophrenia tends to be episodic and many people can function normally if they are adequately treated. It is important to remember that schizophrenia can often be effectively treated and people can recover. The earlier the treatment is started, the better their chances of recovery.

For more information and support contact:
SF Taranaki
Tiaki Tume - Manager & Fieldworker North Taranaki
Laura Douglas - Fieldworker South Taranaki
Level 3, 44 Liardet Street,
New Plymouth
Tel:(06) 757 9300
Fax: (06) 757 3670
Schizophrenia Fellowship (NZ) inc. National Office
P O Box 593, Christchurch.
Tel: (03) 366 1093

The following websites provide information on Schizophrenia:

A  site developed by Child & Adolescent Services, Taranaki Health, working with youth, covering many mental health issues.

Like Minds Taranaki gratefully acknowledges the financial support of this website by the Ministry of Health

Feedback is always welcome
Like Minds Taranaki, 06-759-0966, email:

or on our Facebook page at:

Previous page: Post Partum/Natal Psychosis
Next page: Depression

Taranaki Mental Health Sector