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.
There are four stages of schizophrenia: prodromal phase, active or acute phase, remission, and relapse.
Schizophrenia usually starts with this phase, when symptoms are vague and easy to miss. They are often the same as symptoms of other mental health problems, such as depression or other
anxiety disorders. They may not seem unusual for teens or young adults. In fact, schizophrenia is rarely diagnosed at this time.
Symptoms are sometimes triggered by stress or changes, such as going away to school, starting to use drugs or alcohol, or going through a severe illness or a death in the family.
These first symptoms often include being withdrawn, outbursts of anger, or odd behavior. For more information, see Symptoms.
This phase can last for days, months, or years.
Active, or acute, phase
At some point you start
symptoms such as
hallucinations, delusions, or confusing thoughts and speech.
These symptoms may appear suddenly or
slowly over time. They can be severe and can cause a
psychotic episode, which means you can't tell the
difference between what is real and what isn't real.
This phase usually lasts 4 to 8 weeks. This is when schizophrenia
usually is diagnosed.
Remission and relapse
After an active phase, symptoms get better, especially
with treatment, and life may be more "normal." This is called
remission. But symptoms may get worse again, which is
relapse. You may have this cycle of symptoms that get
severe and then improve.
In each cycle,
symptoms such as hallucinations and delusions may become less intense, but other symptoms, such as feeling less interested in caring for yourself, may get worse. You may have few or
many cycles before you are able to stay in remission.
Within 5 to 10 years, you
may develop a unique
pattern of illness that often stays the same
throughout your life. It also is possible that you will have fewer relapses as
you get older and may even not have symptoms.