Can You Prevent Schizophrenia?

Medically Reviewed by Joseph Goldberg, MD on March 26, 2014
3 min read

Although there is no proven way to prevent schizophrenia, scientists are looking for ways to make it less likely.

Schizophrenia is a complex illness that may partly involve your genes. But events in your life may also play a role.

The condition can sometimes run in families. But there isn't one specific gene that causes it. And in some people who get schizophrenia, there are no signs of a family history of the illness.

It's possible that someone has genes linked to schizophrenia and then faces events that make them more likely to develop the disorder, says Julia Samton, MD, the director of Manhattan Neuropsychiatric PC in New York.

Some of these events are in your control, and some aren't:

Pregnancy complications. Infection, stress, and complications during pregnancy such as preeclampsia may raise the chance that your child will one day have  schizophrenia. But that’s not certain.

Depression or other major stressful events during pregnancy may also play a role. "A woman who experiences a death or other tragedy during pregnancy is also more likely to have a child at risk," Samton says.

Harmful childhood experiencesBrain injury, sexual abuse, and traumatic early experiences may raise the risk.

"Children who were exposed to any trauma before age 16 were three times more likely to become psychotic," Samton says. If the trauma was severe, children were 50 times more likely.

Drug abuse. Early and long-term use of marijuana and other illicit drugs may raise the risk.

Don't use drugs. This is especially important for teens, because their brains are still developing. Remember, alcohol is a drug, so you should limit or avoid it.

Avoid abusive or traumatic situations. If you're in an abusive relationship or you're going through trauma, get help. For instance, you can call a doctor, therapist, crisis line, or 911.

Keep strong social ties. Socializing helps you maintain self-esteem, lower stress, not feel lonely, and keep busy. Teens, especially, should be encouraged to connect with friends and avoid isolation, Samton says.

Learn how to manage stress. Ongoing stress and anxiety are bad for your health.

Set up strategies to manage stress, says Cheryl Corcoran, MD, a research scientist at Columbia University's New York State Psychiatric Institute. You can do this in therapy or learn from your parents, teachers, or other role models who seem to manage stress well.

Take care of your body. Good nutrition and plenty of exercise are important.

Take steps to protect yourself from head injuries, too. For example, wear helmets when biking or playing contact sports.

Try  fish oil. One study suggests that omega-3 fatty acids (found in fish oil) may help prevent psychotic disorders from getting worse, and might even prevent them in young children who are at risk of them. This isn’t certain, though. 

Take steps to stay well if you're pregnant or trying to get pregnant. Make sure you get good medical care for your physical and mental health.

See a psychiatrist. If you have any symptoms, such as feeling suspicious or having unusual thoughts, see a psychiatrist. Cognitive behavioral therapy (a type of counseling) may help you better spot the early signs of schizophrenia and limit its impact on your work, school, and social life. In this type of therapy, a trained psychiatrist, psychologist, or social worker helps people recognize negative patterns of thought and come up with new ways of thinking about problems.

Remember, it’s not likely. Even if schizophrenia runs in your family, there’s a good chance that you won't get it. About 85% of people with a family history of schizophrenia don't develop it themselves, Corcoran says. "So along with doing all of these things, keep these numbers in mind and try not to worry."