Schizophrenia

Schizophrenia is an illness that affects the brain, affecting the way a person thinks, feels and acts. It affects men and women equally, with the onset of symptoms usually appearing in males between 18 and 25 years and in females between 25 years and the mid-30s (with a second peak at the onset of menopause). However, some subtle symptoms may begin many years earlier.

Schizophrenia affects approximately one in 100 people worldwide and occurs in people with a genetic predisposition. While it's known that it is triggered by environmental factors, what these triggers are and why they affect certain individuals is still unknown. Some people who develop schizophrenia will recover completely, while others will find treatment helps alleviate the debilitating symptoms. Roughly 30% of people with schizophrenia remain treatment resistant, highlighting the need for new therapies and further research.

Schizophrenia is characterised by two or more of the following symptoms:

  • Delusions
  • Hallucinations
  • Disorganised speech
  • Grossly disorganised or catatonic behaviour
  • Negative lifestyle symptoms (e.g. social withdrawal, reduced motivation/interest, inappropriate responses).

For a diagnoses of schizophrenia to be made, these symptoms must impact a person's social and work life and continue for at least six months.

  • Worldwide, up to one in 100 people will experience schizophrenia

  • For 70% of suffers, it is managed as a chronic condition

  • Schizophrenia most often develops between the late teens and early 30s

Causes and treatment

While it's known that schizophrenia is caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors, the specific cause is still unknown.

Schizophrenia is usually managed through a combination of treatments. This includes medication, psychology or talk therapy, and organised social support. Psychology can help a person to manage the symptoms they are experiencing, as well as offer strategies around managing the effect of the disorder on their life. The first step in developing a treatment plan should be a visit to a GP.

Community support and destigmatisation of the disorder can help lessen the overall impact of symptoms on a person's life by keeping them connected to others and engaged in daily activities.

 

How the Florey is making a difference

The Florey is committed to increased understanding of schizophrenia and has a number of research projects underway. These include:

  • Understanding molecular changes in the brains of people with schizophrenia as a step toward identifying potential new drug treatments
  • Defining the role of muscarinic receptors as a cause and target for treatment of schizophrenia. The muscarinic receptors are molecules critical to allowing proper information flow around the brain and we know that if they are affected, they can cause psychoses and cognitive deficits. We are in the process of developing a "ligand"- a molecule that bonds to specific receptors- for PET (positron emission tomography) neuroimaging that will allow us to measure levels of muscarinic receptors in living people.
  • Defining the mechanisms by which antipsychotic drugs reduce the symptoms of schizophrenia. Despite these drugs being available from the 1950’s we still do not know how they bring about their therapeutic benefits.
  • Studying the mechanism by which aspirin improves the treatment outcomes when added to antipsychotic drugs
  • Studying why oestrogen seems to lessen symptom severity and delay age of onset of schizophrenia
  • Developing diagnostic tests for schizophrenia

Support and information

While The Florey researches schizophrenia, we do not offer crisis support. If you require immediate support please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14. For more information or support contact beyondblue on 1300 224 636. If your life is in immediate danger call 000.

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