Is There a Schizophrenia Spectrum?

Portrait of a young woman with anxiety and depression problems

Javier Sanz/Moment/Getty

Table of Contents
View All
Table of Contents

Schizophrenia is a mental health condition characterized by a broad range of symptoms, including hallucinations, delusions, and symptoms of psychosis. The disorder used to be divided into several subtypes; however, experts believe that what might have been considered subtypes instead make up a spectrum of conditions that fit under an umbrella known as schizophrenia spectrum disorders.

Schizophrenia is a chronic condition that can significantly affect a person’s ability to think and behave. Schizophrenia is, in reality, one of the many conditions that fall under a range of psychotic disorders known as schizophrenia spectrum disorders. Research shows that schizophrenia affects over 20 million people across the globe. 

Schizophrenia Spectrum Disorders

To understand the debate around classifying schizophrenia as a spectrum disorder, you must first understand what spectrum disorders are. A spectrum disorder is a group of conditions whose symptoms range in severity and manifestation.

For instance, autism is a spectrum disorder known as an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Schizophrenia spectrum disorders are believed to comprise several conditions with similar symptoms.

Schizophrenia itself falls under the umbrella of schizophrenia spectrum disorders. Here’s a breakdown of schizophrenia and other schizophrenia spectrum disorders.

Schizophrenia 

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5-TR), for a person to be diagnosed with schizophrenia, they must meet exhibit at least two or more of the following symptoms: 

  • Hallucinations
  • Delusions
  • Disorganized thoughts and speaking
  • Moving in a disorderly or unusual way
  • Negative symptoms such as speaking in a flat or emotionless voice

The above symptoms must also have persisted for at least six months and be so severe as to disrupt daily functioning. A person who doesn’t meet the diagnostic criteria of schizophrenia but persistently exhibits symptoms that typically characterize the condition may have another form of schizophrenia spectrum disorder.

Schizoaffective Disorder

People with schizoaffective disorder exhibit symptoms of schizophrenia, such as hallucinations and delusions, alongside symptoms of a mood disorder, such as bipolar disorder or depression. The condition can make it difficult for a person to function in social settings like work or school.

People with this condition may not exhibit symptoms at all times. Their symptoms will resurface for periods and dissipate after some time. The condition can begin in late teenagehood but rarely occurs in children.

Schizophreniform Disorder

Schizophreniform disorder bears the closest semblance to schizophrenia. The only difference is the time frame required for a diagnosis to be made.

With schizophreniform disorder, a diagnosis can be made if symptoms have persisted between one to six months, as opposed to the six months required for a schizophrenia diagnosis. Many people with this condition might go on to develop schizophrenia.

Schizotypal Personality Disorder

Schizotypal personality disorder is primarily characterized by odd thoughts and speech, social anxiety, paranoia, and peculiar behaviors. It’s a rare disorder affecting about 3% to 5% of people in the United States.

Diagnosis of this condition can be challenging because people with schizotypal personality disorder may sometimes overlook behaviors and thoughts that are symptoms of the disorder. 

Delusional Disorder 

A person with the delusional disorder will experience symptoms of delusion for at least one month. Unlike delusions experienced by people with schizophrenia, people with delusional disorders typically don’t experience symptoms severe enough to disrupt their daily functioning or significantly alter their behaviors.

People with this condition believe in a reality that is contrary to what is true. They experience non-bizarre delusions. Non-bizarre delusions are delusions that though untrue, could occur in reality.

For instance, believing that they are being lied to by a loved one or being conspired against. It’s a very rare condition, only affecting about 0.05% to 0.1% of the global population. Unlike schizophrenia, a person with this condition won’t exhibit any other psychotic symptoms other than delusions.

Symptoms of Schizophrenia Spectrum Disorders

The common thread of symptoms that can be observed across all conditions under the schizophrenia spectrum disorders are symptoms of psychosis, which could either include hallucinations, delusions, or both.

A hallucination is a sensory perception in the absence of a corresponding stimulus.

Treatment for Schizophrenia Spectrum Disorders 

Treatment for schizophrenia spectrum disorders is one of the most critical reasons each condition under the umbrella needs to be distinguished. An effective treatment plan depends on which of the spectrum disorders you’ve specifically been diagnosed with. In general, treatment typically involves a combination of medication and psychotherapy. Different treatment strategies are used for different people depending on what form of the condition they have and the severity of their symptoms. 

Antipsychotics are the first line of treatment considered when prescribing medication for the treatment of these disorders.

Antipsychotics can have a wide range of bothersome side effects. However, your doctor will prescribe the correct form and dosage of antipsychotics to keep these effects to a minimum.

Coping With Schizophrenia Spectrum Disorders 

Schizophrenia and other similar conditions can be challenging to manage. In most cases, the condition is a lifelong one for which there is no cure. If you or a loved one is living with a form of schizophrenia spectrum disorder, here are some ways to make coping with the condition more manageable:

  • Maintain a healthy and balanced diet: Psychotic disorders can often lead to self-neglect, making your diet suffer. Maintaining an active lifestyle is also highly advisable for a person with these conditions.
  • Maintain a daily routine: Certain symptoms of schizophrenia can make reality confusing. Keeping a daily routine helps you gain some control over your reality.
  • Have a support system: Living with schizophrenia and related disorders can be challenging. Having a healthy support system can ease the process. Inform your support system of your condition and the symptoms you’ve been exhibiting so they can be better equipped to help you.
  • Join a support group: Support groups provide a wealth of information and support. Members of a support group for schizophrenia are either living with the condition or have loved ones who are. They share their experiences and offer support during meetings.

A Word From Verywell

Schizophrenia manifests in different ways and consists of a wide range of varying symptoms. The schizophrenia spectrum helps us better understand how these symptoms manifest and how to treat them.

The similarities between many of the schizophrenia spectrum disorders can make diagnosis challenging. This is where the DSM-5-TR comes in handy, providing clear and concise diagnostic criteria for schizophrenia and other mental health disorders.

7 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Cuthbert BN, Morris SE. Evolving concepts of the schizophrenia spectrum: a research domain criteria perspective. Front Psychiatry. 2021;12:641319. doi:10.3389/fpsyt.2021.641319

  2. World Health Organization. Schizophrenia, January 10, 2022

  3. Wy TJP, Saadabadi A. Schizoaffective disorder. In: StatPearls. StatPearls Publishing; 2022.

  4. Rosell DR, Futterman SE, McMaster A, Siever LJ. Schizotypal personality disorder: a current review. Curr Psychiatry Rep. 2014;16(7):452. doi:10.1007%2Fs11920-014-0452-1

  5. Joseph SM, Siddiqui W. Delusional disorder. In: StatPearls. StatPearls Publishing; 2022.

  6. Arciniegas DB. PsychosisCONTINUUM: Lifelong Learning in Neurology. 2015;21:715-736. doi:10.1212%2F01.CON.0000466662.89908.e7

  7. Chien WT, Yip AL. Current approaches to treatments for schizophrenia spectrum disorders, part I: an overview and medical treatments. Neuropsychiatr Dis Treat. 2013;9:1311-1332. doi:10.2147%2FNDT.S37485

By Toketemu Ohwovoriole
Toketemu has been multimedia storyteller for the last four years. Her expertise focuses primarily on mental wellness and women’s health topics.