How Do Doctors Diagnose Schizophrenia?

There’s no simple test to find out if someone you love has schizophrenia. It’s a severe mental illness that is very hard to diagnose. It affects the way a person thinks, processes emotions, maintains relationships, and makes decisions.

It’s especially hard to diagnose in teenagers because many of the first signs of schizophrenia in young people, such as bad grades, sleeping too much, or withdrawal from friends, can at first seem like typical problems. But schizophrenia is much more than that.

Is It Schizophrenia?

If you think someone you know may have schizophrenia, reach out to your primary care doctor or psychiatrist. Tell them what you have noticed and ask them what steps you should take, especially if the person isn’t interested in getting help.

The first thing they will want to do is a psychological evaluation and a complete medical exam. This will allow the doctor or specialist to track your loved one’s symptoms over about six months to rule out other possible conditions, such as bipolar disorder, and other possible causes.

The doctor may also want to do a urine or blood test to make sure that alcohol or drug abuse isn’t causing the symptoms. And a test that scans the body and brain, such as an MRI or CT scan, might also help eliminate other problems like a brain tumor.

Making the Diagnosis

To get an official diagnosis of schizophrenia, your loved one has to show at least two of the following symptoms most of the time for a month, and some mental disturbance over six months:

  • Delusions (false beliefs that the person won’t give up, even when they get proof that they’re not true)
  • Hallucinations (hearing or seeing things that aren’t there)
  • Disorganized speech and behavior
  • Catatonic or coma-like daze
  • Bizarre or hyperactive behavior

Getting the diagnosis as early as possible will improve your loved one’s chances of managing the illness. If he gets the proper care, which will probably include medication and psychotherapy, a kind of talk therapy, he is likely to do better.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Joseph Goldberg, MD on August 03, 2018



American Psychiatric Association, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fourth edition, text revision (DSM-IV-TR), American Psychiatric Association, 2000.

Keith, S. Schizophrenia Bulletin, 1991.

Andreasen, N. Schizophrenia Bulletin, 1991.

National Alliance on Mental Illness: “Schizophrenia.”

Mayo Clinic: “Schizophrenia, tests and diagnosis.”

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