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What Are Schizophrenia Spectrum Disorders?

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The schizophrenia spectrum is a group of related mental disorders that share some symptoms. These illnesses affect your sense of what's real. They change how you think, feel, and act.

You may have different symptoms at different times, and they may get worse or better -- and it's still the same overall condition. They're like variations on a theme in music. What makes some of them different is how long you've had symptoms and whether you also have signs of a mood disorder.

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No More 'Types' of Schizophrenia

Doctors who specialize in mental health used to divide schizophrenia into five subtypes:

  • Catatonic schizophrenia
  • Disorganized schizophrenia
  • Paranoid schizophrenia
  • Residual schizophrenia
  • Undifferentiated schizophrenia

The diagnosis depended on one main symptom cluster when the doctor first examined you. But how severe symptoms are can change, and they can overlap as time goes on. Your subtype might not stay the same, or it could be hard for a doctor to classify. And that caused problems treating people, so the system using subtypes has fallen out of favor.

Instead, in 2013, the standard book that mental health experts use, called The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, changed how schizophrenia is classified.


The main disorder of the spectrum is schizophrenia. It's a psychosis -- what seems real to you isn't. This can look like:

Hallucinations: Seeing or hearing things that aren't there

Delusions: Mistaken but firmly held beliefs that are easy to prove wrong -- like thinking you have superpowers, are another famous person, or people are out to get you

Disorganized speech: Using words and sentences that don't make sense to others

Strange behavior: Acting in an odd or repetitive way, like walking in circles or writing all the time, or sitting perfectly still and quiet for hours on end

Withdrawn and lifeless: Showing no feelings or motivation, or lacking interest in normal daily activities

To be diagnosed with schizophrenia, you have to have at least two of these symptoms for at least 6 months. One of them must be hallucinations, delusions, or disorganized speech. A single voice that offers ongoing comments about your thoughts and actions, or voices that talk to each other, is enough.

There could have been times when you didn't have any symptoms, but the first one would have started at least 6 months ago. And you must have had them for at least a month continuously.

Doctors can still call out the kinds of symptoms you have to make their diagnoses clearer. For example, rather than saying you have "paranoid schizophrenia," they would say you have "schizophrenia with paranoia."

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