Schizophreniform disorder is a psychotic disorder diagnosed in someone who shows symptoms of schizophrenia for the better part of at least one month but for less than six months. If the symptoms persist for six months or more, the diagnosis is changed to schizophrenia or, in some cases, bipolar or schizoaffective disorder. Someone with schizophreniform disorder cannot differentiate between what is real and what is imagined to a degree that affects their thought process, behavior, emotional expression, and interpersonal relationships. To meet the criteria for schizophreniform disorder, the symptoms must not be due to medication or recreational drugs, or to another medical or psychological problem.
According to the DSM-5, schizophreniform disorder can be diagnosed if at least two of the following symptoms appear, and one of the two symptoms is delusions, hallucinations or disorganized speech.
- Delusions (imagining that people are talking about you or spying on you)
- Hallucinations (hearing or seeing things that don't exist)
- Disorganized or nonsensical speech
- Strange or catatonic behavior
- Lack of hygiene or lack of interest in day-to-day activities
People with schizophreniform disorder often withdraw from loved ones and avoid social activities. Schizophreniform disorder often results in a loss of normal living and social skills and significant problems at school or work.
Like schizophrenia, schizophreniform disorder affects men and women equally, but onset is generally earlier in men, often appearing between the ages of 18 and 24. In contrast, onset in women is more common between the ages of 24 and 35. It is important to seek diagnosis and treatment as soon as one or more key symptoms appear, as the prognosis for a full recovery is best with early intervention.
The cause of schizophreniform disorder is unclear but may be linked to genetics, abnormal brain structure, or circuitry in areas that involve perception, and/or an environment or situation that initiates symptoms in someone who is genetically inclined to develop the disorder.
Poor interpersonal relationships or severe stress may trigger symptoms of schizophreniform in those who are susceptible. Children with parents affected by schizophrenia spectrum disorders may be at higher-than-average risk of developing the condition themselves.
Psychotherapy and antipsychotic medications are the mainstay of treatment for schizophreniform disorder, and are critical to prevent the development of schizophrenia.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy is routinely used to help those on the schizophrenia spectrum understand the disorder and provide practical ways to cope while improving social and problem-solving skills. Other types of talk therapy that take a positive approach may be equally effective, at least in the short-term. If violent or self-destructive symptoms appear, hospitalization may be necessary. Family therapy can also help relatives deal with the disorder and learn effective ways to help.