What Is Schizophreniform Disorder, And Is It Different Than Schizophrenia?

Here's what to know, according to a psychiatrist.

There are many types of mental illness—anxiety disorders, mood disorders, personality disorders—but psychotic disorders, like schizophrenia, are some of the most serious mental afflictions.

According to the US National Library of Medicine's MedlinePlus resource, psychotic disorders cause abnormal thinking and perception, typically causing a person to lose touch with reality. While schizophrenia is the most well-known psychotic disorder, there are many different types, including schizophreniform disorder.

Schizophreniform disorder can look a lot like schizophrenia, but it's actually a short-term type of schizophrenia, says Tatiana Falcone, MD, a psychiatrist at Cleveland Clinic. "People with schizophrenia must have symptoms for longer than six months," she says. "People with schizophreniform disorder have to have symptoms for less than six months."

About one in every 1,000 people will develop schizophreniform disorder in their lifetime, says Dr. Falcone, making the illness quite rare. According to the Cleveland Clinic, the disorder affects both men and women equally, but shows up at earlier ages in men (ages 18 to 24), and later in women (between ages 24 to 35).

The Cleveland Clinic says the symptoms of schizophreniform disorder look similar to schizophrenia and include:

  • Delusions
  • Hallucinations
  • Nonsensical speech
  • Strange behaviors (including walking in circles, pacing, or constantly writing)
  • Lack of energy
  • Loss of pleasure or interest in life
  • Poor hygiene
  • Withdrawal from family

Dr. Falcone also shares that depression often accompanies schizophreniform disorder, with psychotic symptoms sometimes following behind symptoms of depression. Dr. Falcone adds that the psychotic symptoms of schizophreniform disorder may be "mood congruent" meaning a person's hallucinations or delusion may be tied or related to that person's depression.

Schizophreniform disorder can be caused by genetics, as well as a chemical imbalance in the brain or environmental factors. According to Cleveland Clinic, these factors include experiencing "a highly stressful event" or poor social interactions; these might trigger schizophreniform disorder in people likely to suffer from it due to their family history.

As far as treatment goes, in cases related to depression, treatment for schizophreniform disorder may include treatment for the mood disorder like therapy or the use of antidepressants. Additionally, doctors might use antipsychotic medications to treat the psychotic symptoms in patients who have schizophreniform disorder. In some cases—about two-thirds, according to the American Psychiatric Association—those with schizophreniform disorder may go on to develop schizophrenia. Schizophreniform disorder with depression also raises a person's risk of death by suicide, so it's essential for those suffering from the disorder to get the proper help they need.

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