Schizophreniform Disorder

Schizophreniform disorder is a mental health condition that causes symptoms of psychosis, like hallucinations, delusions and disorganized speech. It lasts fewer than six months. Treatment includes medications and talk therapy.


What is schizophreniform disorder?

Schizophreniform disorder is a short-term mental health condition that causes psychosis. This involves:

  • Hallucinations.
  • Delusions (firmly held beliefs in something untrue).
  • Disorganized speech.
  • Disorganized behavior.

The symptoms of schizophreniform disorder last more than one month but fewer than six months.

What is the difference between schizophrenia and schizophreniform disorder?

Schizophrenia and schizophreniform disorder have very similar symptoms. The difference is how long the symptoms last. Schizophrenia is a chronic (lifelong) condition. Schizophreniform disorder is a short-term condition lasting one to six months.

How common is schizophreniform disorder?

In the United States, schizophreniform disorder is much less common than schizophrenia, which affects 0.6% to 1.9% of people.

About one-third (33%) of people who receive a diagnosis of schizophreniform disorder will no longer have symptoms after six months. Most of the remaining two-thirds (66%) of people will eventually receive a diagnosis of schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder. In other words, their symptoms last longer than six months.


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Symptoms and Causes

What are the symptoms of schizophreniform disorder?

Symptoms of schizophreniform disorder are similar to those of schizophrenia and include:

  • Delusions: These are strongly held false beliefs that aren’t based on reality. You refuse to change your mind even when evidence shows they’re inaccurate.
  • Hallucinations: These are false perceptions of objects or events involving your senses: sight, sound, smell, touch and taste.
  • Disorganized speech: The content of what you say is disorganized. For example, you may say sentences that are difficult for others to understand, use made-up words or switch quickly from one topic to another. These are changes from how you normally speak.
  • Disorganized or unusual movements: You might move differently than people around you expect. For example, you may turn around a lot for no clear reason, or you might not move much at all (catatonia).

Other symptoms of schizophreniform disorder are called “negative symptoms.” They refer to a reduction or loss of your ability to do things as expected, like:

  • Limited emotional expression.
  • Lack of energy or motivation.
  • Poor hygiene and grooming habits.
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in life (anhedonia).
  • Withdrawing from family, friends and social activities.

If you develop these symptoms or notice them in a loved one, see a healthcare provider or mental health professional right away.

What are the complications of schizophreniform disorder?

The symptoms of schizophreniform disorder can significantly impact your daily life. You may struggle with school or work, relationships and self-care. This may lead to job and/or relationship loss.

People with psychotic disorders, including schizophreniform disorder and schizophrenia, are at an increased risk of substance use and substance use disorder. You may be more likely to use alcohol or other substances to help cope with your symptoms (“self-medication”). If you find yourself in this situation, reach out to a healthcare provider or mental health professional as soon as possible.

People who experience psychosis are also at an increased risk of suicidal ideation or death by suicide.

If you have suicidal thoughts or behavior, see a healthcare provider immediately. You can also call 988 to reach the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. Someone is available to help you 24/7.

What causes schizophreniform disorder?

Researchers don’t know the exact cause of schizophreniform disorder. But they think it may involve several factors, including:

  • Genetics: Schizophreniform disorder tends to run in biological families. While having a biological parent with this condition increases your risk of developing it, it doesn’t guarantee you will.
  • Brain chemistry: If you have schizophrenia or schizophreniform disorder, you may have an imbalance of certain chemical messengers in your brain called neurotransmitters. An imbalance in these chemicals can interfere with the transmission of messages, leading to symptoms.
  • Environmental factors: Evidence suggests that certain factors in the environment might trigger schizophreniform disorder in people who have inherited a tendency to develop the disorder, like a highly stressful event (trauma).


Diagnosis and Tests

How is schizophreniform disorder diagnosed?

A healthcare provider will do a complete medical history and physical examination. No laboratory tests can diagnose schizophreniform disorder. But your provider might use various diagnostic tests to rule out physical conditions or substances that may be causing your symptoms. These tests may be blood tests or brain imaging tests.

If your provider finds no physical reason for the symptoms, they might refer you to a psychiatrist or psychologist. These are healthcare professionals specially trained to diagnose and treat mental health conditions.

Psychiatrists and psychologists use specially designed interview and assessment tools to evaluate you for a psychotic disorder. The provider bases their diagnosis on your symptoms and their observation of your attitude and behavior.

They diagnose schizophreniform disorder based on the criteria in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). Schizophreniform disorder involves two or more of the following symptoms, each present for a significant portion of time over one month:

  • Delusions.
  • Hallucinations.
  • Disorganized speech.
  • Disorganized behavior.
  • Negative symptoms.

Management and Treatment

How is schizophreniform disorder treated?

The goal of treatment for schizophreniform disorder is to protect and stabilize you and relieve your symptoms. Treatment generally consists of medication and psychotherapy (talk therapy). If you have severe symptoms or are at risk of hurting yourself or others, you might need to stay in a hospital until your symptoms improve.

Medication for schizophreniform disorder

Antipsychotic medications are the go-to medications healthcare providers prescribe to treat the symptoms of schizophreniform disorder. Examples include:

As your symptoms improve, you’ll continue to work with your provider to manage your medication dosage. Your provider will carefully monitor you for signs of relapse (return of symptoms).

Psychotherapy for schizophreniform disorder

Psychotherapy, also called talk therapy, is a term for various treatment techniques that help you identify and change unhealthy emotions, thoughts and behaviors. Therapy aims to help you learn about schizophreniform disorder, establish goals and manage everyday difficulties related to the condition.

Two main types of therapy for schizophreniform disorder include:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): This is a structured, goal-oriented type of psychotherapy. During CBT, a mental health professional helps you closely examine your thoughts and emotions. You’ll come to understand how your thoughts affect your actions. Through CBT, you can unlearn negative thoughts and behaviors and learn to adopt healthier thinking patterns and habits. It also can help you manage the feelings of distress associated with the symptoms and challenge thoughts that might not be based in reality.
  • Family therapy: For families participating in therapy due to a mental health condition, psychoeducation is a crucial part of it. Psychoeducation is how mental health professionals teach people and their families about mental health conditions. It involves basic information about the condition, causes, treatment and prognosis (outlook). Family therapy can help families better understand what someone with schizophreniform disorder experiences. They can also learn tools to cope with the condition, help their loved one and detect early signs of relapse.



Can schizophreniform disorder be prevented?

There’s no known way to prevent or reduce your risk of schizophreniform disorder. But early diagnosis and treatment can help decrease the disruption to your life.

Outlook / Prognosis

What is the prognosis (outlook) for people with schizophreniform disorder?

About 33% of people with schizophreniform disorder recover within six months. If your symptoms continue beyond six months, you most likely have schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder, which are lifelong conditions. In this case, you’ll need to continue treatment to effectively manage the condition.

Living With

How do I take care of myself?

If you have schizophreniform disorder, you should do the following to help care for yourself and manage your condition:

  • Take medications as prescribed: One of the most important things you can do is take your medications as prescribed. Discuss any concerns or side effects with your provider to find one that works well for you.
  • See your healthcare provider regularly: Your healthcare provider(s) will set up a schedule for you to see them. These visits are especially important to help with managing the condition.
  • Don’t ignore or avoid symptoms: You’re more likely to respond to treatment and have a good outcome with early diagnosis and medical care.
  • Avoid alcohol and substance use: Alcohol and substance use or misuse can make schizophreniform disorder symptoms worse and can lead to other issues.
  • Consider seeking support: Consider joining a support group for people with schizophreniform disorder or other psychotic disorders. Working with a group may help you feel less alone and relate to others going through what you are.

When should I see my healthcare provider?

See your healthcare provider right away if you experience the symptoms of schizophreniform disorder. Take your loved ones’ concerns about your behaviors seriously, especially if you have a history of psychosis or a family history of it.

If you’ve received a diagnosis of schizophreniform disorder, it’s crucial to see your provider and/or mental health professional regularly to manage this condition.

What questions should I ask my healthcare provider about schizophreniform disorder?

  • Do I have schizophreniform disorder or schizophrenia?
  • How long do you estimate my symptoms will last?
  • What specialist should I see?
  • Can I attend work/school?
  • Do I need to stay in a hospital?
  • What medications do you recommend?

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Schizophreniform disorder can be an alarming condition for you and your loved ones. If you think you have symptoms of schizophreniform disorder or psychosis, it’s important to talk to a healthcare provider as soon as you can. Their job is to help you. Healthcare providers — especially those specializing in mental health conditions — are trained to help you not feel judged, ashamed or embarrassed.

If you think a loved one has signs of schizophreniform disorder, encourage them gently and supportively to get care. Early diagnosis and treatment can make a big difference in helping people recover and manage this condition.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed on 11/27/2023.

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