Schizophreniform vs. Schizophrenia: What's the Difference?

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Schizophrenia is a serious psychiatric condition involving severe symptoms that affect how you think, act or feel. Schizophreniform disorder is a mental health condition that is similar to schizophrenia, however, schizophreniform disorder has a limited duration.

The symptoms of both conditions are severe and impact daily functioning. The main feature of both conditions is a loss of the ability to tell the difference between what is real and what is not. The key feature of schizophreniform disorder is that the symptoms last for less than six months, while people diagnosed with schizophrenia experience symptoms for more than six months.

Both conditions involve psychosis (hearing, seeing, or feeling things that don't exist) and other psychotic symptoms such as delusions (belief in something untrue or irrational), hallucinations, and disorganized thinking.

Schizophreniform Disorder
  • Unable to distinguish between what is real and what is not

  • Symptoms last for less than six months

  • Involves psychosis, delusions, hallucinations, disorganized thinking

  • Treatment focuses on short-term symptom relief

Schizophrenia
  • Unable to distinguish between what is real and what is not

  • Symptoms last for more than six months

  • Involves psychosis, delusions, hallucinations, disorganized thinking

  • Treatment aims to reduce symptoms and prevent a relapse

Symptoms of Schizophreniform Disorder/Schizophrenia

Below are some common symptoms of schizophrenia and schizophreniform disorder. People with schizophrenia or schizophreniform disorder suffer from three types of symptoms: positive, negative, and cognitive.

Positive Symptoms

Positive symptoms most commonly include delusions and/or hallucinations. These can vary in severity; for example, some people may experience mild hallucinations (hearing one voice), while others will hear many voices that are harsh and commanding.

Negative Symptoms

Negative symptoms include lack of feelings or emotion (previously called "flat affect" but is now referred to as "diminished emotional expression"), speaking little, and not completing daily activities such as showering, shaving, or brushing teeth. A person with negative symptoms may do nothing for long periods of time.

Cognitive Symptoms

Cognitive symptoms most commonly include disorganized thinking and speech. Another symptom common to both conditions is that of "not making sense" when speaking or writing.

Other cognitive symptoms include memory problems, difficulty concentrating, and poor organization.

How Is Schizophreniform Disorder Diagnosed?

According to the DSM-5, a diagnosis of schizophreniform disorder requires that a person has experienced psychotic symptoms for at least 1 month, but less than 6 months.

People diagnosed with schizophreniform disorder may experience symptoms similar to what is seen in schizophrenia, but they are less severe and do not last as long.

Schizophreniform disorder can be difficult to diagnose because some symptoms are similar to other mental illnesses. Your doctor will review your medical history, look for signs of hallucinations or delusions, assess your mental status and ask family members about changes in mood or behavior.

Your doctor may need to rule out other conditions or factors that can cause similar symptoms. These conditions include:

If you are diagnosed with schizophreniform disorder, your doctor will likely recommend treatment to reduce the risk of developing schizophrenia.

People who have schizophreniform disorder usually recover completely without medication or further treatment after the psychotic episode has ended, while most people with schizophrenia require long-term treatment.

Schizophreniform disorder is sometimes called an "early-onset type of schizophrenia," but this is not always true. Some people may experience schizophreniform disorder and never develop schizophrenia.

Treatment of Schizophreniform Disorder/Schizophrenia

Treatment options for schizophreniform disorder and schizophrenia include medications and psychosocial therapy.

Treatment may include one or more of the following approaches, depending on your age, other conditions you have, and your symptoms:

  • Medication: Your doctor may prescribe medications to treat positive symptoms such as hallucinations, delusions, and paranoia. Antipsychotic medications are often used for this purpose. You may also take medication to treat negative or cognitive symptoms, such as difficulty concentrating and lack of motivation.
  • Supportive psychotherapy: This type of therapy can help you develop coping strategies to lessen the impact of delusions, hallucinations, and other symptoms. There are a number of supportive therapies including cognitive-behavioral psychotherapy (CBT), family-focused therapy, and group or individual psychotherapy.
  • Social and vocational rehabilitation: This type of therapy can help you develop social skills, build a support system, and improve your ability to function in daily activities.

Treatment for schizophreniform disorder focuses on short-term symptom relief. The goal is to reduce symptoms until the condition resolves on its own or you no longer need treatment.

In contrast, schizophrenia treatment aims to reduce symptoms and prevent a relapse of the condition. If you experience your first episode of schizophrenia, you may be treated for up to one year or longer.

Can Schizophreniform Disorder Lead to a Schizophrenia Diagnosis?

Yes, some people diagnosed with schizophreniform disorder develop schizophrenia or related diagnoses. In fact, one study showed that about 50% of those diagnosed with schizophreniform disorder went on to be diagnosed with schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder within two years. However, this does not always happen.

Some people experience schizophreniform disorder and never develop schizophrenia.

Helping a Loved One

Many people with schizophrenia do not receive treatment because they either don't realize that they have it or they are in denial about having the disorder.

An untreated illness can pose serious risks to both the person with undiagnosed schizophrenia and those around him or her. Unchecked, symptoms of psychosis may lead to financial ruin, loss of employment, divorce, or legal problems.

It is important for family members to recognize early warning signs, seek prompt medical attention for the person with symptoms, and learn about schizophreniform disorder or schizophrenia so they can support the person who is diagnosed. Below are just some of the potential things that you can do to help:

  • Learn as much as you can about schizophrenia, schizophreniform disorder, and other psychiatric conditions so that you can be familiar with any symptoms.
  • Help your loved one find a qualified doctor that will create an individualized treatment plan.
  • Make sure the person diagnosed with schizophreniform disorder or schizophrenia takes his or her medication as prescribed.
  • Keep track of any changes in symptoms and report these to relevant healthcare professionals if you are involved in a family care plan.
  • Support your loved one both emotionally and financially during treatment as needed (if you are able to do without impacting your own mental health and finances).
  • Be aware of local resources and support groups that can help you and your loved one cope with schizophreniform disorder or schizophrenia.

If the disorder progresses, your loved one may require additional support services and eventually hospitalization. A team of doctors and other health care professionals will work together to monitor your loved one's condition and recommend the appropriate treatment.

A Word From Verywell

Schizophreniform disorder and schizophrenia can be scary diagnoses for friends and family members. It is important to remember, however, that the outlook for someone with these diagnoses can be positive. These disorders can be effectively treated and most people who receive proper treatment are able to lead fulfilling lives. If you love someone diagnosed with either disorder, the most important thing that you can do is provide support and help them find a qualified doctor so they can get the treatment and care they need.

3 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. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Impact of the DSM-IV to DSM-5 Changes on the National Survey on Drug Use and Health [Internet]. Rockville (MD): Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (US); 2016 Jun. Table 3.20, DSM-IV to DSM-5 Psychotic Disorders. 

  2. Naz B, Bromet EJ, Mojtabai R. Distinguishing between first-admission schizophreniform disorder and schizophreniaSchizophr Res. 2003;62(1-2):51-58. doi:10.1016/s0920-9964(02)00332-8

  3. Grover S, Chakrabarti S, Kulhara P, Avasthi A. Clinical Practice Guidelines for Management of SchizophreniaIndian J Psychiatry. 2017;59(Suppl 1):S19-S33. doi:10.4103/0019-5545.196972

By Arlin Cuncic
Arlin Cuncic, MA, is the author of "Therapy in Focus: What to Expect from CBT for Social Anxiety Disorder" and "7 Weeks to Reduce Anxiety."