Schizophreniform disorder is a mental health condition that manifests with symptoms of psychosis, similar to schizophrenia, that last between 1 and 6 months.

When symptoms of schizophreniform disorder don’t resolve after 6 months, a person may receive a schizophrenia diagnosis.

Yes, schizophreniform disorder is a formal mental health condition under the Schizophrenia Spectrum and Other Psychotic Disorders category in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders, 5th edition, text revision (DSM-5-TR).

Schizophrenia spectrum disorders share some of the symptoms, but differ in onset and duration times.

A schizophrenia spectrum disorder (SSD) may impact cognition, behavior, and emotions, making it harder to function in everyday life.

Conditions included in the schizophrenia spectrum include:

Collectively, symptoms of SSDs may be referred to as psychosis.

Nikki Young, licensed marriage and family therapist at Valley Crisis Intervention Services in California, says schizophreniform disorder may be one of the lesser-known psychotic disorders.

Psychosis is described as a disturbance in the perception of reality. Someone experiencing symptoms of psychosis may believe, see, hear, and sense things that others in the same environment do not.

Psychosis involves symptoms like hallucinations and delusions, and may also involve impairment of thought, speech, and behavior.

The duration of the symptoms of schizophreniform disorder is the primary differentiating factor from other disorders in the spectrum, explains Young. “In schizophreniform disorder, symptoms must be present for at least one month but less than six months. Schizophrenia, in contrast, involves psychotic symptoms that are present for more than six months.”

Common symptoms of schizophreniform disorder include:

  • hallucinations
  • delusions
  • disorganized thoughts
  • disorganized speech
  • disorganized behavior
  • movement challenges

These symptoms are also present in conditions like schizophrenia (lasting more than 6 months) and brief psychotic disorder (lasting less than 1 month).

To diagnose schizophreniform disorder and to rule out other disorders, a mental health professional needs to determine if the symptoms have been present for at least 1 month but less than 6 months.

Symptoms of schizophreniform disorder may be positive or negative, according to Kara Nassour, a licensed professional counselor practicing at Shaded Bough Counseling in Austin, Texas.

Positive symptoms refer to behavior or trait that has been added to the patient’s typical, and negative symptoms indicate the absence of something, Nassour explained.

Positive symptoms of schizophreniform disorder may include:

  • hallucinations
  • delusions
  • disorganized thoughts
  • disorganized speech
  • disorganized behavior
  • catatonic behavior or other movement changes

Negative symptoms of schizophreniform disorder may include:

  • diminished emotional expression
  • decreased responsiveness
  • loss of speech
  • absence of motivation
  • reduced willpower
  • inability to experience pleasure

Does schizophreniform disorder lead to schizophrenia?

Genetically, people with schizophreniform disorder may be more likely to develop schizophrenia. However, although people who have had schizophreniform disorder may later develop schizophrenia or another disorder on the spectrum, one is not considered a direct cause of the other.

Was this helpful?

The remaining two-thirds do eventually develop schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder.

“If one were to initially ‘recover’ from schizophreniform disorder and then experience a return of symptoms,” Young said, “the person would be assessed for an alternate diagnosis at that time.”

A person is more likely to develop schizophreniform disorder if a close relative has experienced symptoms or received a diagnosis, says Nassour about the potential neurological and genetic causes of the condition.

“We don’t know completely what causes schizophreniform, though we do know some of the risk factors,” says Dr. Ari Aal, psychiatrist and owner of Delos Psychiatry in Boulder, Colorado.

These contributing factors to the disorder may include:

  • substance use disorder
  • childhood trauma
  • physical and emotional abuse
  • family history of psychotic disorders

Though there’s no single identifiable cause of schizophreniform disorder, Young says the condition likely develops at the intersection of genetic, physiological, and environmental factors.

Treatment for schizophreniform disorder involves a multi-specialty approach, explains Young. A combination of medication, therapy, and case management is often effective.

Medication is identified as the first line of defense, according to Young. The disorder is initially treated with antipsychotic drugs.

Antipsychotics are a class of medications that block dopamine receptors, as psychosis may be related to an excess of dopamine, explains Aal. Mood stabilizers, such as lithium or valproic acid, and benzodiazepines such as Ativan, may be used to treat co-occurring mood symptoms.

Therapy and counseling can help to process thoughts and feelings about a diagnosis, while simultaneously building skills and habits to maintain wellness.

Case management services involve medical experts who may be able to provide logistics assistance or solve complications for individuals experiencing schizophreniform disorder.

“The outlook for schizophreniform disorder can vary widely,” says Nassour. Some people recover fully on their own and regain everyday functioning, while others may require hospitalization until symptoms improve.

Some people with the disorder may later develop schizophrenia, although this isn’t the rule.

“Family therapy can be especially helpful,” says Nassour. In family therapy, loved ones can receive support and learn how to assist with managing the condition.

“In general, the more friends and family are involved, and the earlier the person gets treatment, the better their chances of recovery,” adds Nassour.