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Mental Health

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Schizophrenia

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Overview

Schizophrenia can affect the way a person thinks, feels, and acts. It is a fairly common disorder – about one in every hundred people (1%) develop schizophrenia.

Some common symptoms of schizophrenia are:

  • Hallucinations: seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, or feeling things that are not there.
  • Delusions: strongly held false beliefs. For example, a person experiencing a delusion might believe she is being watched or followed when she is not.
  • Confused thinking: thoughts do not make sense, are jumbled, or are racing or too slow.
  • Changes in feelings and behaviors: changes in mood, not caring for oneself, or doing things that don’t make sense, such as laughing while someone is talking about something sad.
  • Difficulty feeling and expressing positive emotions: lack of motivation to start and complete goals and activities, difficulty experiencing pleasure when engaged in activities or around people, reduced range of emotional expression (such as limited facial expressions or poor eye contact). For example, a person may have difficulty getting out of the house, doing things with other people, or pursuing goals such as work, school, or relationships.
  • Cognitive symptoms: difficulties with mental processes such as trouble concentrating or paying attention, poor memory, or slow thinking.

Some ideas about what causes schizophrenia are:

  • Biological: Research has linked schizophrenia to problems with certain neurotransmitters, the chemical messengers that transmit impulses throughout a person’s brain and central nervous system. In addition, the relatives of people who experience schizophrenia are more likely to experience schizophrenia themselves.
  • Environmental stressors: Research suggests that environmental stressors including malnutrition before birth, obstetric complications, poverty, and early parental loss or separation may also be associated with increased risk of developing schizophrenia. The onset of schizophrenia can be triggered by stressful life events or may happen gradually.
  • Drug Abuse: Research suggests that the onset of schizophrenia can also be triggered by drug use (especially use of marijuana, speed, or LSD).

The current thinking is that a combination of these factors causes schizophrenia, and the combination can differ from person to person.

People with schizophrenia can lead full and productive lives. Recovery is possible! A combination of helpful therapies, education in managing one’s illness, and supports to provide assistance and encouragement can lead to experiencing fewer symptoms, improving relationships with other people, and achieving meaningful and fulfilling life goals.

VA Programs & Services

Treatment for schizophrenia involves working with mental health professionals to gain support and talk through challenges, learn how medications can help reduce symptoms, communicate about distressing symptoms and side effects, and learn strategies for managing important aspects of life. Talking with others who have schizophrenia and who “get” what one is going through is also critical. Family members can be involved in treatment decisions too.

There are many VA programs and services dedicated to helping Veterans with schizophrenia find treatments that are best for them. No one treatment is best for all Veterans. Programs and services at the VA treat each Veteran as an individual and work to determine which treatments and programs fit best with each Veterans’ personal needs and goals.

  • Each VA has a Local Recovery Coordinator (LRC) who leads recovery discussion groups, creates special education programs, and makes recovery-focused programs available to Veterans. LRCs can help Veterans with schizophrenia find resources to promote their recovery.
  • VA’s Mental Health Programs educate Veterans and their family members about schizophrenia and which treatment options are right for them. Veterans with schizophrenia can work with a psychiatrist to learn about medication options, help determine which medications fit best with their needs and goals, and provide regular monitoring so that medications continue to be effective. Veterans also can talk to mental health professionals about substance use, traumatic experiences, or other problems that may be causing pain and need to be part of treatment.
  • At the VA, mental health programs provide psychosocial treatment options are available to help Veterans with schizophrenia learn to manage the illness, navigate stressors of daily life, stay healthy and active, and work towards important personal goals.
    • Social Skills Training (SST) helps people learn how to communicate their feelings and ideas in a straight-forward manner so they can feel confident interacting on the job, in relationships, or in other places during their daily lives.
    • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) helps people understand relationships among thoughts, feelings, and behaviors and learn new patterns of thinking as a way to support positive feelings.
    • Illness Management and Recovery (IMR) helps people set meaningful goals and obtain information and learn skills to support their mental health and recovery.
    • Other programs aimed at housing, employment, vocational training, and health behavior change are also available to help Veterans design programming that best meets their needs and goals.
    • Peer Support Technicians (also called Peer Specialists or Peer Counselors) have personal experiences with schizophrenia and recovery, and have completed peer-counselor training. They can help Veterans with schizophrenia navigate the VA mental health system, put Veterans in touch with community and VA resources, or assist Veterans in advocating for their needs. As a Veteran who “has been there” regarding mental illness, they can be terrific allies in a person’s recovery journey.

Articles & Fact

Articles

  • What is Schizophrenia?: The National Alliance on Mental Illness has put gathered a wealth of information on schizophrenia and its treatments.
  • Schizophrenia: This is an easy- to-read booklet on schizophrenia that explains what it is, when it starts and how to get help developed by the National Institute of Mental Health.
  • Social Skills Orientation for Clients: This document provides an introduction to Social Skills Training (SST).

Other Resources

  • National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) – Schizophrenia: NAMI is a grassroots organization dedicated to improving the lives of individuals and families affected by mental illness. NAMI provides information on symptoms, causes, diagnosis, treatment and more. The NAMI main office phone number is (703) 524-7600. The NAMI Helpline is (800) 950-6264.
  • National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) - Schizophrenia: The NIMH is a national organization whose mission is to transform the understanding and treatment of mental illnesses through basic and clinical research, paving the way for prevention, recovery and cure. It provides information on signs, symptoms, treatment, clinical trials and more.
  • Schizophrenia.com: Has a wealth of information on schizophrenia and its treatments.
  • Mental Health America (MHA) – Schizophrenia: MHA is a nonprofit dedicated to helping all people live mentally healthier lives. The phone number for MHA is (800) 969-6642.
  • Pat Deegan, PhD & Associates, LLC (PDA): PDA is a small company founded by and for people with psychiatric disabilities who work to create and disseminate technologies to support the recovery of people diagnosed with mental illness. Dr. Deegan provides a lecture about the experience of developing and living with schizophrenia on Youtube.
  • National Empowerment Center: As a consumer/survivor/expatient-run non-profit with the mission “To carry a message of recovery, empowerment, hope and healing to people with lived experience with mental health issues, trauma, and extreme states. The NEC provides a wide range of resources, programs, and information about mental health, recovery, and advocacy. NEC can be reached by phone at 800- power2u (800-769-3728) or on their website.
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