Schizophrenia is a general term for a group of psychotic illnesses characterised by disturbed thinking, emotional reactions and behaviours. The word means "split brain" to describe how the sufferer's thoughts and feelings may not relate to each other in a logical fashion.

The cause of schizophrenia is unknown, although there is a strong genetic factor. Parents, children or siblings of a schizophrenic have a one in 10 chance of developing the illness compared with one in 100 of the general population. People tend to develop schizophrenia between the ages of 15 and 30. About 10 per cent are severely impaired for life while a third will lead normal lives with varying degrees of independence.

Doctors treat schizophrenia with anti-psychotic drugs which reduce the symptoms and may make some patients more receptive to psychotherapy. Help and support from families, friends and drop-in centres plays a large part.

Contact the National Schizophrenia Fellowship Advice Service on 0181- 974 6814, Mon-Fri 10am-3pm.