What Is Schizophreniform Disorder?

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What Is Schizophreniform Disorder?

Schizophreniform disorder is a diagnosis that falls under the schizophrenia spectrum, according to the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). It is a short-term psychotic disorder characterized by symptoms similar to schizophrenia.

Symptoms of Schizophreniform Disorder

Individuals with schizophreniform disorder experience psychotic symptoms that last for fewer than six months and then abate. If symptoms persist for more than six months, the individual has another disorder, such as schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder rather than schizophreniform disorder.

In order to qualify for a diagnosis of schizophreniform disorder, an individual must have two or more of the following symptoms for a period of at least one month:

  • Delusions: a strong, firm belief that is not grounded in reality; for example, someone who believes they are receiving messages from aliens or that they are being followed when there is no evidence that this is occurring.
  • Hallucinations: perceiving something that is not actually there; such as hearing voices talking to you or seeing someone who is not there. Most people with schizophreniform disorder experience auditory hallucinations, or “hearing things,” but they can also experience visual hallucinations.
  • Disorganized speech and thoughts: talking in a way that is not coherent or does not make sense.
  • Disorganized behavior: behavior that appears erratic or random.
  • Catatonic behavior: lack of movement and communication. A person who is catatonic might appear unresponsive despite being conscious.
  • Negative symptoms: things that tend to decrease in someone experiencing a psychotic episode, including lowered feelings of pleasure, flattened emotional responses, withdrawal, and difficulty with self-care.

An episode related to schizophreniform disorder lasts one to six months and must occur in the absence of a major depressive or manic episode. Symptoms must not be caused by a medical condition or substance use (though individuals with this diagnosis might also struggle with
substance use).

Part of assessing for a diagnosis of schizophreniform disorder also includes making sure that delusions are not actually based in reality. For example, some individuals with psychotic symptoms believe that the government is watching or paying special attention to them. Although there are cases where someone might experience a delusion that they are being followed, some people do have stalkers. Clinicians must rule out this possibility before assigning a diagnosis.

An episode related to schizophreniform disorder lasts one to six months and must occur in the absence of a major depressive or manic episode.

Types of Schizophreniform Disorder

Although schizophreniform disorder is treatable, the provider making the diagnosis will indicate whether the symptoms are present with or without good prognostic features. Good prognostic features include onset of fewer than four weeks, good functioning prior to symptom onset, and the absence of flattened affect.

If two or more good prognostic features are present, you would be diagnosed with schizophreniform disorder with good prognostic features. If fewer than two good prognostic features are present, then it would be schizophreniform disorder without good prognostic features.

Do I Have Schizophreniform Disorder?

Since it is your brain's job to alert you to problems in your body, it can be difficult to notice when your brain is giving you incorrect information. Many people with psychotic disorders do not realize they are experiencing psychotic symptoms, and they often do not believe providers when they are first diagnosed.

The stigma surrounding psychotic disorders also contributes to this. If someone has a negative view of psychosis or what it means to have a psychotic disorder, they are more likely to resist believing that it could happen to them.

It is important to know that anyone can have a mental health issue, and developing psychotic symptoms is not a reflection on the individual's worth or value.

Signs you might be experiencing psychosis include:

  • Hearing or seeing things that the people around you do not perceive.
  • Experiencing strange, unusual thoughts or beliefs that you cannot let go of even when presented with evidence that they are not accurate.
  • Withdrawal from family and friends.
  • Sudden difficulty with basic self-care tasks like bathing or eating.
  • Sudden difficulty with thinking and concentration.

What Causes Schizophreniform Disorder?

Psychotic disorders are strongly influenced by genetics and individual brain chemistry. Psychotic symptoms, particularly hallucinations and delusions, are associated with hyperactivity in the neurotransmitter dopamine, and many other brain chemicals contribute to developing psychotic symptoms. Highly stressful or traumatic events can trigger the development of schizophreniform disorder.

Most men who experience schizophreniform disorder develop symptoms between ages 18 and 24, and most women develop symptoms between 24 and 35.

Schizophreniform Disorder Treatments

Depending on individual needs, schizophreniform disorder can be treated in different ways.

  • Medication: Typical and atypical antipsychotic medications are often prescribed for schizophreniform disorder. If an individual also has mood symptoms, antidepressants or mood stabilizers could also be prescribed.
  • Outpatient psychotherapy: A therapist can support you as you learn more about your symptoms, cope with your illness, and develop skills to aid in your recovery.
  • Inpatient Treatment: If an individual experiences safety concerns such as suicidal ideation, they might require inpatient care to ensure their safety. People with schizophreniform disorder might have these thoughts due to distress brought on by their illness. Some also have command hallucinations that order them to hurt themselves or someone else, and they might require or seek out inpatient treatment to address these. It is important to remember that most people who experience command hallucinations do not obey the hallucination.

Although recommendations may vary based upon symptoms and circumstances, it might be recommended that individuals with schizophreniform disorder continue treatment for about a year after symptoms end in order to ensure that they are stable and have the support they need in their recovery.

Coping With Schizophreniform Disorder

What can you do to cope with schizophreniform disorder? You might need time off work to get treatment and recover. Social support from loved ones and the greater community can help with access to treatment. It is also important to follow through with self-care needs, including a nutritious diet, maintaining an exercise routine, and maintaining good sleep hygiene.

Although it can be scary to learn that you have a psychotic disorder, schizophreniform disorder is a treatable and manageable condition.

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. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.).

  2. Vohs JL, Leonhardt BL, James AV, et al. Metacognitive reflection and insight therapy for early psychosis: a preliminary study of a novel integrative psychotherapy. Schizophrenia Research. 2018;195:428-433. doi:10.1016/j.schres.2017.10.041

  3. Stahl SM. Beyond the dopamine hypothesis of schizophrenia to three neural networks of psychosis: dopamine, serotonin, and glutamate. CNS Spectr. 2018;23(3):187-191. doi:10.1017/S1092852918001013

By Amy Marschall, PsyD
Dr. Amy Marschall is an autistic clinical psychologist with ADHD, working with children and adolescents who also identify with these neurotypes among others. She is certified in TF-CBT and telemental health.