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There are many misunderstandings about schizophrenia.

Schizophrenia does not mean 'split personality' or a 'Jekyll and Hyde' character.

Schizophrenia is a complex illness affecting a person's whole being, their moods, feelings, perceptions, thoughts, behaviour and ability to communicate. It is a severe and disabling condition.

Biological evidence shows schizophrenia as a disease of the brain. Medication can help to control and reduce the severity of symptoms for many sufferers. Social-psychological evidence shows that environmental factors also play a key role.

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Most people with schizophrenia are not violent.

Sufferers are usually withdrawn and prefer to be left alone. People with schizophrenia are not especially prone to violence, particularly if they had no record of violent behaviour before being diagnosed with mental illness. Unfortunately, rare cases attract media attention and dominate people's perceptions of schizophrenia.

Sometimes, people with paranoid or psychotic symptoms may be violent but most incidents occur at home with family and friends. Risks may be greater if a person has discontinued medication.

The main danger for people suffering from schizophrenia is violence to themselves and an increased risk of suicide.

To be diagnosed with 'schizophrenia' major symptoms need to be persistent, this means; present for at least six months.

The main symptoms of schizophrenia are hallucinations and delusions.

Hallucinations:. Perceptual disturbances that can be very frightening. A typical symptom is auditory hallucination - hearing internal voices. The voices may talk about the person themselves, warn them of dangers or give out orders.

Delusions: Disturbances of thought involving false beliefs. There are several types of delusions:

Paranoid delusions: The sufferer may believe that he or she is being persecuted or conspired against. For example, people plotting to poison or kill them.

Delusions of grandeur: The sufferer believes that he or she is a famous or very important person.

Bizarre delusions: These are delusions that do not fit in either of the above divisions. For example, belief that thoughts are planted into head by someone else, or that other people hear one's thoughts, or people on television are sending special messages in code.

Behavioural disturbances:These may be a reaction to terrifying hallucinations or delusions and could be social withdrawal, fear of others or peculiar mannerisms.

Disordered thinking and speech: Inability to concentrate or to sort thoughts into logical sequences, communication may be difficult and speech hard to follow.

Disturbed emotions: Unexpected emotions, for example; laughing in the 'wrong' places (known as inappropriate affect). Emotions may be blunted or flat.

Low motivation: The sufferer may spend entire days doing nothing, neglecting themselves and losing interest in life in general.

Note: Sufferers of schizophrenia do not always show symptoms of the illness or behave abnormally; a person may have one episode that never returns or they may be repeated. Some people may suffer continuous chronic symptoms.

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