Mental health professionals can diagnose and treat schizophrenia by assessing your medical records and family health history. Receiving diagnosis is an important step toward finding relief.

Schizophrenia is a mental health condition that affects the way people perceive reality. Individuals with schizophrenia often experience psychosis which involves hallucinations and delusions.

Many people with schizophrenia have to manage their symptoms with therapy and medications. If you or a loved one have schizophrenia, getting the appropriate diagnosis and treatment is essential for improving your overall quality of life.

If you’re told you have schizophrenia finding support from loved ones and a treatment team may help you cope.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the prevalence rate of schizophrenia worldwide approximately 24 million people. It’s not as common as other mental health disorder, such as major depressive disorder (MDD) or anxiety disorders.

If you suspect you have schizophrenia or are seeking help for someone, you care about, seeking the guidance of a mental health professional is necessary.

Psychiatrists can help provide assessments and medications for people with schizophrenia.

How to get tested for schizophrenia

There isn’t one assessment or test for schizophrenia. Seeing a mental health professional such as a psychiatrist, psychologist, or licensed counselor who can diagnose schizophrenia is a start.

Mental health professionals can usually help diagnose schizophrenia by obtaining:

  • family history
  • mental health history to assess for symptoms
  • medical records

If you need help identifying a mental health professional, such as a psychiatrist near you, consider using this FindCare tool to help locate a psychiatrist.

When is schizophrenia diagnosed?

Schizophrenia diagnosis most commonly occurs from the late teens to early thirties.

Research suggests that males often experience their first episode of schizophrenia in their early twenties, while females usually experience their first episode of schizophrenia from their late twenties to early thirties.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition, text revision (DSM-5-TR) lists these common symptoms of schizophrenia:

  • hallucinations
  • delusions
  • disorganized speech patterns, such as incoherent speech
  • catatonia
  • lack of emotional expression
  • disorganized behavior

Research suggests that some common signs of schizophrenia may include:

  • Auditory hallucinations: hearing voices
  • Visual hallucinations: seeing things that others don’t
  • Olfactory hallucinations: smelling things that aren’t there
  • Tactile hallucinations: perception of touch that isn’t there
  • Lack of insight: hard to understand that hallucinations or delusions aren’t real and caused by illness
  • Delusion: a persistent belief that isn’t shared by others

Other common signs may also include:

  • distorted speech
  • illogical speech
  • difficulty feeling emotions
  • withdrawing from others
  • lack of or decreased motivation
  • inability to speak

If you notice these symptoms, it may be a sign to seek treatment. These symptoms can cause difficulty with school, work, and in relationships.

Negative vs. positive symptoms of schizophrenia

With schizophrenia, there are negative and positive symptoms.

Research indicates that negative symptoms refer to symptoms of schizophrenia in which there is a lessening of typical behaviors related to motivation or interest or the absence of these behaviors.

Some common negative symptoms include:

  • Avolition: a reduction in goal-directed behavior or lack of motivation
  • Alogia: a decrease in the number of words spoken
  • Asociality: lack of capacity for social interaction or rejecting it
  • Anhedonia: lack of pleasure
  • Blunted affect: trouble expressing emotions

Positive symptoms of schizophrenia are an increase in the presence of symptoms that aren’t typically there. According to 2022 research, some positive symptoms of schizophrenia include:

  • hallucinations
  • delusions
  • formal thought disorder
  • bizarre behavior

Both positive and negative symptoms can cause significant problems for individuals with schizophrenia.

If you have schizophrenia, the most common treatments are medication and psychotherapy.

Psychotherapy treatment options for schizophrenia

There are varying psychotherapy modalities that have an evidence base for treating schizophrenia. Research suggests these modalities are a helpful adjunct to medication for schizophrenia treatment:

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT): focuses on thoughts, feelings, and behaviors and learning new methods of coping
  • Family therapy: helps examine family dynamics and ways to support the person with schizophrenia
  • Psychoeducation: helps educate the person and family on schizophrenia and what to expect as well as symptoms
  • Cognitive remediation: works to improve cognitive function through practicing cognitive tasks on the computer or on paper

The authors note that CBT, in addition to antipsychotic medication, is slightly more effective than other forms of therapy. A 2018 review notes CBT for psychosis has a small benefit on levels of distress in individuals with schizophrenia.

Medication options for schizophrenia

There are many types of medications that are commonly used to treat schizophrenia. The classes of drugs most frequently used in schizophrenia treatment include:

  • antipsychotics
  • tranquilizers
  • antiparkinsonians
  • anticonvulsants
  • hypnotics
  • antidepressants
  • lithium

In one research study that reviewed prescriptions from 30,908 individuals with schizophrenia who received inpatient treatment, antipsychotics were the most commonly prescribed medication for treatment (94.8%).

Side effects of antipsychotic medication

While antipsychotics are the most commonly prescribed type of medication for schizophrenia, they can also have various side effects ranging in severity.

According to 2018 research, the most common side effects of antipsychotics are:

  • dry mouth
  • sedation
  • sexual dysfunction
  • constipation
  • restlessness or inability to sit still (akathisia)
  • involuntary contractions of muscles (acute dystonia)
  • weight gain
  • tardive dyskinesia
  • inflammation of the heart muscle (myocarditis)
  • agranulocytosis (a deficient number of a type of white blood cell in the blood)

Some of these side effects are severe such as tardive dyskinesia, which is a neurological condition in which you experience involuntary movements of muscles. Myocarditis and agranulocytosis can be life-threatening conditions. If you’re taking antipsychotic medications and notice these symptoms, seeking care from a medical professional is essential.

Research indicates that family support helps individuals with schizophrenia adapt to their symptoms. Those with higher family support can better cope and adjust to what they’re experiencing.

If you have a loved one with schizophrenia, the authors mention some potential ways you can support your loved one, such as:

  • emotional support: listen, show affection, maintain trust toward your loved one, and try to show them warmth
  • informational support: help direct your loved one towards healthy skills or giving them advice when asked
  • instrumental support: help your loved one with food, shelter, or finances when possible.

In addition to these different types of support, helping your loved one with mental health and doctor’s appointments and being present enables you to understand their care plan better.

Attending appointments may help encourage your loved one to adhere to their medication regimen and any therapy or doctor’s appointments they may need.

Schizophrenia is a mental health condition that affects how a person thinks, feels, and behaves. Many people with schizophrenia perceive reality inaccurately, which can make obtaining treatment challenging.

If you believe you or a loved one have schizophrenia, it’s important to recognize common signs and symptoms so you can seek the help of a mental health professional.

To obtain a schizophrenia diagnosis, the mental health clinician will likely need a history of symptoms from the person experiencing them or may interview family members or other supportive people to gain an adequate history. The medical history may also help the clinician with vital information to diagnose schizophrenia.

People with schizophrenia often have to learn how to cope with hallucinations and delusions, and lifelong management of the disorder is necessary. Medications such as antipsychotics as well as psychotherapy can be beneficial for alleviating symptoms.

People with schizophrenia adapt to symptoms better if they have family support. If you have a loved one with schizophrenia, being able to listen without stigmatizing the disorder can mean a lot to a person.

For resources and information about supporting a loved one with schizophrenia, you may check out the following:

Help is available, and you aren’t alone.