Schizophrenia is one of a group of disorders known as psychosis. It is a significant mental illness that causes someone to have an altered experience of reality. Schizophrenia affects people’s thoughts, perceptions and behaviour and interferes with their ability to function at work, school or relate to other people.
If you or someone you know has unusual thoughts, perceptions or behaviours that sound like schizophrenia, it’s important to seek help. Some people with schizophrenia do not realise they have a problem or avoid health professionals if they have paranoid thoughts. Getting the right diagnosis is the first step towards effective treatment and recovery.
There is no test available for schizophrenia. A doctor or mental health professional can do a mental health assessment in the form of a special interview. This includes questions about the current symptoms, past history of mental health issues, medical history, family history and any substance abuse issues. It is also helpful to speak to a family member for more information about the person’s symptoms.
The doctor will then do a physical examination and may need to do blood tests or a brain scan to rule out any underlying causes. The diagnosis will usually need to be confirmed by a psychiatrist, who can advise on the best treatment options.
The diagnosis is made according to recognised criteria, such as the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). According to the DSM-5, for a diagnosis of schizophrenia to be made, the symptoms need to be present for 6 months or more and be severe enough to cause problems in functioning at work, school, home or socially.
Sometimes a diagnosis of psychosis may be used instead of schizophrenia. This is a similar diagnosis but usually means the symptoms are less severe or have been present for a shorter period of time. Some people with psychosis go on to develop schizophrenia later in life but many recover completely.
See a doctor if you or someone you know seems to be experiencing any of these symptoms.
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Last reviewed: December 2016