Schizophreniform Disorder: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

Schizophreniform disorder isn't a particularly well known condition. However, it shares certain symptoms with schizophrenia. In this article, we explain how the two conditions differ and their main characteristics.
Schizophreniform Disorder: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

Last update: 11 May, 2022

Schizophreniform disorder is included in the classification of schizophrenia spectrum disorders and other psychotic disorders. Its symptoms are identical to schizophrenia, although what marks the diagnosis is its duration.

In fact, a person is diagnosed with schizophreniform disorder when their symptoms have lasted more than a month – to differentiate it from brief psychotic disorder – and less than six months. Therefore, schizophreniform disorder is usually a provisional diagnosis that either changes or stabilizes, depending on the evolution of the condition.

When there’s no recovery, most patients previously diagnosed with schizophreniform disorder go on to be diagnosed with schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder. This happens in approximately two-thirds of the cases. One-third recover partially or totally.

Woman crying feeling guilty
Schizophreniform disorder usually develops in adolescence or early adulthood.

Symptoms of schizophreniform disorder

People diagnosed with schizophreniform disorder experience a number of common symptoms. To meet the diagnostic criteria of the DSM-V, they must present two or more of the following symptoms:

  • Delusions.
  • Hallucinations.
  • Disorganized speech.
  • Extremely disorganized or catatonic behavior.
  • Decreased emotional expression.

Other common symptoms are memory and concentration difficulties, social withdrawal, impaired communication, perceptual experiences, strange ideas, or reduced interest in day-to-day activities. This means that, especially at the beginning, the patient’s quality of life is greatly affected.

Most subjects with schizophreniform disorder present dysfunction in different areas. For instance, work, interpersonal relationships, or their own self-care. Those with the most successful outcome are patients who maintain the diagnosis of schizophreniform disorder yet don’t meet the criteria for schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder (Pérez-Egea et al. 2006 ).

Main causes of schizophreniform disorder

The causes of schizophreniform disorder aren’t fully understood. However, everything indicates that the combination of biological and psychosocial causes determines the appearance of symptoms. Among the known factors that can influence its development are:

  • Genetic factors.
  • Neuropathologies.
  • Biochemical alterations.
  • Psychosocial factors such as poverty or migration.
  • Complications during pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum.
  • Consumption of psychoactive substances in adolescence and youth.
  • Extremely stressful situations.

The most effective treatments

The approach to schizophreniform disorder is similar to that prescribed to patients with schizophrenia. Therefore, medication based on antipsychotics is essential but isn’t enough.

Pharmacological interventions are extremely effective although it’s highly recommended that they be complemented by many other measures. Among them, is psychotherapy. This helps patients to deal and learn to live with the serious effects of the disorder in their daily lives.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy has also been shown to be highly effective in addressing the maladaptive behaviors and cognitive distortions of this disorder. In addition, it’s useful in providing education and support to family members of patients.

Another really important aspect in which cognitive behavioral therapy can help is in the training of social skills. In fact, with this therapy, patients learn new interpersonal skills, such as how to express their feelings or start conversations.

Patients might also undertake other psychosocial support measures. For instance, participating in support groups or searching for employment. They help them maintain a life that’s functional as possible. These kinds of resources can be useful on their own. However, combining them brings the patient closer to the type of situation in which they experience a better quality of life.

Man in psychological therapy
The combination of drugs and psychotherapy is usually one of the best treatment options.

Final thoughts on schizophreniform disorder

A patient diagnosed with schizophreniform disorder can maintain a relatively functional life. That’s if they follow pharmacological treatment, go to therapy, and are supported by their environment. Nevertheless, on many occasions, this doesn’t happen because many patients remain undiagnosed.

When this is the case, they usually have a really bad time. In fact, their situation gets progressively more complex. There might be increased substance abuse, they become unable to work, many of them suffer from depression or other affective disorders, and there’s a significant risk of suicide.

We should add that there’s low awareness of this disorder, especially when it first occurs. For this reason, it’s important that if someone in your environment presents symptoms compatible with this disorder, you ensure they consult a specialist. This means they’ll be ensured of receiving the best possible care.

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  • American Psychiatric Association (2018). Manual Diagnóstico y Estadístico de los Trastornos Mentales (DSM-5), 5ª Ed. Madrid: Editorial Médica Panamericana.
  • Bocanegra, C.A. (2013). Estudios sobre la psicosis. Barcelona: Xoroi Edicions.
  • Muñoz, F.J. y Ruiz, S.L. (2007). Terapia cognitivo-conductual en la esquizofrenia. Revista Colombiana de Psiquiatría, 36(1). [fecha de consulta 28 de abril de 2022]. Recuperado de http://www.scielo.org.co/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S0034-74502007000100008
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