Schizophrenia is a mental health condition that affects about 1% of the U.S. population. That means millions of people nationwide live with the condition. It typically starts in late adolescence or early adulthood.

Schizophrenia can affect people of all different sexes, genders, and backgrounds.

Schizophrenia impacts your ability to connect with other people, organize your thoughts, and manage your emotions.

As much as 80% of people with schizophrenia aren’t aware they’re experiencing symptoms during early psychosis. For this reason, if you notice signs of schizophrenia in someone else, it may be especially important to help them connect with a healthcare professional.

If you’re experiencing unusual thoughts or notice any changes in the way you sense or perceive yourself and the world around you, it may help to speak with a mental health professional about these experiences.

An important thing to note is that the onset of schizophrenia can look different from person to person, as this condition can take a variety of forms.

That said, there are still certain symptoms you can look for.

The onset of schizophrenia usually occurs between the ages 16 and 30. Broken down by sex, the average age of onset tends to be:

There’s a possibility that healthcare professionals may diagnose this condition in children 13 years old and younger. However, the chances of this are much lower. The odds of developing childhood-onset schizophrenia are roughly 1 in 10,000.

Though it’s most common for people to begin experiencing their first symptoms in late adolescence or early adulthood, early or late onset schizophrenia is also possible.

Psychosis affects the way you think and perceive the world around you. A person experiencing psychosis has trouble distinguishing between what is real and what isn’t. Psychosis can be brought on by medical causes or trauma, or by a developmental cause, such as schizophrenia.

Everyone’s experience is different, but most people say that psychosis is frightening and confusing.

Schizophrenia is a psychotic syndrome that involves positive symptoms, negative symptoms, and thought disorder.

Positive symptoms are symptoms that are present when they usually would not be, such as hallucinations. Negative symptoms are symptoms where something is absent that would usually be present. Examples would include diminished emotional responses or delayed speech development in children.

People with thought disorder may communicate using words and phrases that may not make complete logical sense.

First episode of psychosis

The first episode of psychosis refers to when you first show signs of being unable to distinguish what’s real from what isn’t. It typically involves hallucinations and delusions, which can seem very real to the person experiencing them.

Experts say the average age at which people first experience psychosis is 24 years old. The oldest age of onset was 63 years and the youngest age was 3 years.

Acting quickly to connect yourself or your loved one with the right treatment during early psychosis can help dramatically. If you are a family member or friend, consider reaching out to a healthcare professional on behalf of the person you care about.

Healthcare professionals consider someone to have early onset schizophrenia, or childhood onset schizophrenia (COS), when their symptoms begin before the age of 13 years.

Early onset can be harder to diagnose because clinicians have to distinguish between a child’s benign imaginative play and delusions or hallucinations that are related to schizophrenia.

If a child receives a diagnosis of schizophrenia, their hallucinations will most likely be auditory. This means they may hear strange voices, ringing, or other noises that may not actually be occurring.

It’s usually not until later in the teenage years that someone with early onset schizophrenia experiences thought disorder.

Children with COS may also show disordered speech. However, because children sometimes have delayed development of speech for other reasons, it can be difficult for a psychiatrist to say whether this symptom is related to schizophrenia.

Regardless of how difficult it can be for healthcare professionals to diagnose schizophrenia in children, if you believe that someone close to you might be experiencing early onset schizophrenia, it’s important to say something.

The quicker they can receive professional assessment, diagnosis, and treatment, the better their chances of successfully managing their mental health.

Like early onset schizophrenia, late onset schizophrenia is rare. Mental health professionals consider schizophrenia to be late onset when a person begins experiencing symptoms between ages 40 and 60.

Later in life, schizophrenia is associated with other medical risks, such as cardiac issues. People with late onset schizophrenia are less likely to have disorganized thoughts or trouble understanding.

Instead, they’re more likely to experience so-called positive symptoms, like delusions and hallucinations.

Usually, a person with schizophrenia has gradual changes in their thoughts and perceptions. Families are often the first to see early signs of psychosis and schizophrenia in a loved one.

Before the first episode of psychosis, you go through what is known as a “premorbid” period. This is the 6 months before the first symptoms of psychosis. During this period, you might experience gradual changes.

Although sleep disturbances are not included in the diagnostic criteria for schizophrenia, people with the condition consistently report them.

Early warning signs include:

  • a concerning drop in grades in school or performance at work
  • trouble thinking clearly or concentrating
  • suspiciousness of or uneasiness around others
  • a decline in self-care or personal hygiene
  • inappropriately strong emotions or no feelings at all
  • unusual thoughts or beliefs
  • hearing, seeing, tasting, or believing things that others don’t

Schizophrenia is a long-lasting mental health condition that tends to become apparent in late adolescence or early adulthood. Earlier and later onsets are also possible, but they’re relatively rare.

Doctors can’t cure schizophrenia, but they can help you significantly manage and control it. There are different therapies, medications, and support groups that can alleviate some of the uncomfortable symptoms associated with schizophrenia.

It’s possible to live well if you have schizophrenia. Once you or your loved one has spoken with a psychiatrist and been diagnosed with this mental health condition, there are a variety of treatment options available.

For more information, you can visit the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).

There should be no shame in addressing your mental health or that of a loved one.

You can listen to the Inside Schizophrenia Podcast to learn more about schizophrenia and ending the stigma around mental health.