Psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia are a group of serious illnesses that affect the mind. These illnesses alter a person's ability to think clearly, make good judgments, respond emotionally, communicate effectively, understand reality, and behave appropriately. When symptoms are severe, people with psychotic disorders have difficulty staying in touch with reality and often are unable to meet the ordinary demands of daily life. However, even severe psychotic disorders usually are treatable.
There are different types of psychotic disorders, including:
There is no test that can make a schizophrenia diagnosis. People with schizophrenia usually come to the attention of a mental health professional after others see them acting strangely.
Doctors make a diagnosis through interviews with the patient, as well as with friends and family members.
Psychiatrists have the most experience with diagnosing schizophrenia. A psychiatrist or other licensed mental health professional should be involved in making a schizophrenia diagnosis whenever possible.
Schizophrenia: People with this illness have changes in behavior and other symptoms -- such as delusions and hallucinations -- that last longer than six months, usually with a decline in work, school, and social functioning.
Schizoaffective disorder: People with this illness have symptoms of both schizophrenia and a mood disorder, such as depression or bipolar disorder.
Schizophreniform disorder: People with this illness have symptoms of schizophrenia, but the symptoms last between one and six months.
Brief psychotic disorder: People with this illness have a sudden, short period of psychotic behavior, often in response to a very stressful event, such as a death in the family. Recovery is often quick -- usually less than a month.
Delusional disorder: People with this illness have a delusion (a false, fixed belief) involving real-life situations that could be true, such as being followed, being conspired against, or having a disease. These delusions persist for at least one month.
Shared psychotic disorder (also called folie à deux): This illness occurs when one person in a relationship has a delusion and the other person in the relationship adopts it for himself or herself.
Substance-induced psychotic disorder: This condition is caused by the use of or withdrawal from some substances, such as hallucinogens and crack cocaine, that may cause hallucinations, delusions, or confused speech.
Psychotic disorder due to another medical condition: Hallucinations, delusions, or other symptoms may be the result of another illness that affects brain function, such as a head injury or brain tumor.
Paraphrenia: This is condition with similar symptoms as in schizophrenia that starts late in life and occurs in the elderly population. It is not officially recognized as a formal diagnosis in current classification systems of mental illness, and is usually described as an atypical form of psychosis.