How Schizophrenia Is Diagnosed

Different factors will help your psychiatrist make a diagnosis

Schizophrenia is a type of mental illness characterized by symptoms of psychosis, which can make you appear out of touch with reality.

There is no blood test or brain scan to diagnose schizophrenia. Only someone with special training, like a psychologist or psychiatrist, can accurately diagnose schizophrenia. if your mental health practitioner believes you have schizophrenia, they will speak with you and perform some psychological tests to determine your mental health history, beliefs and evaluate any symptoms you may be experiencing.

Types of Schizophrenia Symptoms

There are three types of schizophrenia symptoms that a doctor will look for when trying to make a diagnosis – positive, negative, and cognitive symptoms.

Positive symptoms are psychotic symptoms that can make you appear to be out of touch with reality. These include: 

  • Delusions
  • Hallucinations
  • Disorganized speech
  • Disorganized behavior and movement 

Negative symptoms appear as disruptions to what are considered normal behaviors and emotions. Symptoms include: 

  • "Flat affect" muted facial expressions and emotions 
  • Reduced feelings of joy 
  • Difficulty speaking and expressing oneself 

While positive and negative symptoms are key to diagnosing schizophrenia, cognitive symptoms can help your psychiatrist make a diagnosis as well. Cognitive symptoms can include: 

  • Poor decision-making 
  • Difficulty paying attention
  • Trouble using your working memory 

Beyond evaluating your symptoms, your doctor will likely ask about your family history. Having a family member with schizophrenia increases your risk of developing the condition.

Other Psychotic Disorders

Most of the symptoms of schizophrenia are symptoms of psychosis, but it is possible to have psychotic symptoms without having schizophrenia. Other psychotic disorders include:

  • Schizophreniform Disorder
  • Schizoaffective Disorder
  • Brief Psychotic Disorder
  • Delusional Disorder
  • Substance/medication-induced psychotic disorder
  • Psychotic disorder due to another medical condition

There are also disorders that can have psychosis as a symptom, including mood disorders with psychosis, cognitive disorders with psychosis, and personality disorders. If you think you may have or if you have been diagnosed with schizophrenia, it's best to seek professional help.

You can try asking your primary care physician for a referral to a mental health professional or therapist with experience in schizophrenia. Try writing down any questions you have or topics you'd like to discuss before your first appointment. Though it may be difficult at first, speaking openly with a professional is a great first step in managing your condition.

Schizophrenia Discussion Guide

Get our printable guide to help you ask the right questions at your next doctor's appointment.

Mind Doc Guide

It’s important to begin treatment as soon as possible to best manage your symptoms. It is possible to control your symptoms with the help of a mental health practitioner, treatment plan, and prescription medication. 

Be sure to express any concerns you have to your doctor, as finding the right treatment plan is a highly individualized process. There is no one-size-fits-all approach, but with a good support system, you can find the one that works for you.

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Article Sources
  • ​American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.
  • ​Morrison, J. DSM 5 Made Easy: the Clinician’s Guide to Diagnosis. New York: The Guilford Press, 2014.
  • National Institute of Mental Health. Schizophrenia. 2016. 
  • ​Torrey, E.F. Surviving Schizophrenia: a Manual for Families, 
  • Patients and Providers, 6th Edition. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2013.