Schizophreniform is a psychiatric condition that shares symptoms with its more common cousin, schizophrenia. The difference between them simply comes down to how long the symptoms are present for, and we will discuss this in more detail further down. The symptoms of schizophreniform disorder – which include delusions, hallucinations, and a range of behavioral disturbances – can really interfere with your ability to live a normal life. Luckily, though, these sorts of problems often respond well to treatment. Read on for an overview of everything that you need to know about schizophreniform disorder.
Schizophreniform: What Does It Mean?
Translated literally, ‘schizophreniform’ means ‘split mind’. This has led people to believe that schizophreniform disorder (and the associated condition of schizophrenia) amounts to having a split personality. But this is a misconception. Rather than having multiple personalities, people with schizophreniform disorder are split-off and disconnected from reality.
Signs and Symptoms of Schizophreniform Disorder
People with schizophreniform disorder struggle to differentiate between what is real and what isn’t. Usually, this can be seen in their patterns of thinking, speaking, behaving and interacting with the world.
Clinicians sometimes talk about these in terms of “positive” symptoms and “negative” symptoms. Put simply, positive symptoms are things that shouldn’t be there but are (like hallucinations or delusions) and negative symptoms are things that should be there but are not (like a deep lack of motivation or a lack of ability to display emotions).
Clinicians use these and other special terms to describe some of the more unusual symptoms seen in these kinds of disorders.
What are the Common Behaviors/Characteristics?
People with schizophreniform disorder often have ideas or beliefs that seem strange or irrational. For example, you may believe that you’re the reincarnation of Jesus, that you can read minds or that a celebrity is stalking you. These beliefs are maintained firmly, despite the existence of any contradictory evidence
A hallucination involves hearing, seeing or experiencing something that isn’t really there. With schizophreniform disorder, this is most often a case of hearing voices. But you may also see things that aren’t there or experience a physical sensation that doesn’t have any real basis, such as the feeling of bugs crawling under your skin.
People with schizophreniform disorder may communicate in a way that is difficult or even impossible to understand. This might involve, for example, jumping erratically from topic to topic and answering questions off-point or in a complicated and roundabout way. Clinicians call this “disorganized speech”. In some cases, people with schizophreniform disorder may also repeat words and phrases over and over (called “clanging”) or make up new words that don’t exist (“neologisms”).
Unusual Physical Movements
People with schizophreniform disorder may perform odd movements, such as grimacing, becoming unusually restless, pacing, fidgeting or rocking. Their movements may also slow down to a point where they maintain a fixed posture for extended periods of time, known as “catatonic behavior”.
The early stages of schizophreniform disorder may include a mixture of other less obvious characteristics, such as negative symptoms. For example, you may find yourself withdrawing socially and emotionally, avoiding eye contact and speaking monotonously. You may also lose motivation to pursue activities such as working, studying, cleaning, cooking, maintaining your personal hygiene and having fun.
Stats: How Many Suffer from this Disorder?
It has been estimated that 0.07% of the general population has this condition, meaning that you’re 5 times less likely to have schizophreniform disorder than schizophrenia.
What Causes Schizophreniform?
Researchers have yet to pinpoint the exact cause of schizophreniform and other similar disorders. However, it’s clear that genes play a role: if someone in your family has had any form of psychotic episode, you may be predisposed to developing schizophreniform disorder. Evidence also suggests that differences in the brain’s structure and chemicals may contribute to the disorder’s development – as well as being in a social environment that is characterized by ongoing or extreme stress and a lack of social support.
Testing: What are the Diagnostic Criteria Per the DSM 5?
According to the DSM 5, a person needs to experience at least two of the following symptoms to qualify for a diagnosis of schizophreniform disorder. They also need to tick the box for at least one of the symptoms listed under points 1 to 3.
- Disorganized and incoherent speech
- Disorganized behavior
- Negative symptoms
Furthermore, the DSM tells us that these symptoms must be present for between 1 and 6 months; and that schizophreniform disorder can’t be diagnosed when the symptoms have been caused by medications, drugs or other medical conditions such as a stroke, brain injury or epilepsy.
Schizophreniform and Other Conditions
There are several psychotic conditions that present in a similar way to schizophreniform disorder: read on to learn how to tell the difference.
Schizophreniform vs Schizophrenia
These two disorders present with the exact same set of symptoms. The main difference, however, relates to the timing: schizophreniform disorder is diagnosed when symptoms have been occurring for no more than 6 months, whereas schizophrenia requires symptoms to have been present for at least six months.
Schizophreniform vs Schizoaffective Disorder
Schizoaffective disorder differs from schizophreniform due the presence of major depression or a manic episode, which is a period of unusual energy, irritability, enthusiasm or euphoria. These depressive or manic conditions exist alongside the psychotic features, which both disorders share.
Schizophreniform is a psychotic disorder, sharing symptoms with related conditions such as delusional disorder, brief psychotic disorder, schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder and psychosis caused by drugs or another medical condition. To know exactly what you’re dealing with, it’s important to have a thorough assessment done by a psychologist and/or psychiatrist. Often, people who are diagnosed with schizophreniform disorder are later diagnosed with another, different psychotic disorder.
Schizophreniform In Adults/Children
Schizophreniform and other psychotic disorders are rare amongst children and young adolescents, although they have been known to occur in people of this age. It’s not unusual for children to have imaginary friends, night terrors or vivid dreams, so it’s important that these are not mistaken for psychotic symptoms.
Example Case of Schizophreniform
Steven (22) was an outgoing student who lived with his parents. He played football and had a healthy social and academic life. Over time, however, things started to change. Steve stopped attending practice and seeing his friends. His grades also started to suffer, as he found it difficult to pay attention and often chose to skip class.
This went on for about two months until one day, his mom came home from work and found Steven pacing about the kitchen. When he saw his mom, Steven started speaking in a strange and jumbled way: “They want me. Want me. Want me. I’m always looking out there but I’m never seeing. Do you know what I mean? The aliens, they’re looking for me. Not being free.”
His mom managed to calm him down enough for him to explain that a group of aliens had been communicating with him. He told his mom that he heard the alien voices many times during the day, and that they were saying that they wanted him to join them as their leader.
At this point, Steven’s mom realized that he needed medical attention. She called Steven’s dad and the three of them met at the nearest emergency room. After undergoing various tests and medical exams – as well as a family interview – Steven was given antipsychotic medication.
Within one week most of his symptoms had cleared and on discharge he was referred for weekly talk therapy to receive emotional support and education about psychosis. When he attended his follow-up appointment at the hospital one month later, Stevens was completely back to his normal old self.
The psychiatrist explained that because Steven’s symptoms had resolved within six months, he qualified for a diagnosis of schizophreniform disorder. The psychiatrist went on to say that it was a good prognostic sign that Steven had recovered so quickly and now that his symptoms were gone he could slowly start to focus on getting his social and academic lives back on track.
How to Deal/Coping With Schizophreniform
The best way to cope with your condition is by following the recommendations of the professionals who are treating you, mainly regarding medication and psychotherapy adherence, as well as attending future check-up appointments with your clinician. In addition, it can be incredibly healing to connect with other people who have experienced psychosis: ask your doctor or search online for support groups near you.
Look out for These Complications/Risk Factors
Approximately 60% of people who are initially diagnosed with schizophreniform disorder end up having symptoms that last for more than 6 months. As a result, they end up being diagnosed with other psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder. Other complications include the fact that antipsychotic use may lead to health problems later down the line.
Finally, schizophreniform disorder may put you at risk of self-harm and suicide. If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts or behavior, act quickly by contacting 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline on 1-800-273-8255.
Schizophreniform disorder should be treated using a three-pronged approach involving medication, talk therapy, and community-level support. Therapy is usually focused on providing education about the disorder, emotional support, and coping skills. However, treatment should also involve the person’s community: immediate family, friends, and neighbors should learn what they can do to provide support and minimize the chances of relapse. At times, it may also be appropriate for the person to have access to assisted work programs.
Possible Medications for Schizophreniform
Up until the 1960s, talk therapy was the main strategy used to treat psychotic disorders. Since then, the invention of antipsychotic medication has enabled health professionals to reduce psychotic symptoms with far more efficiency. Furthermore, medication works faster in improving a person’s level of functioning which makes it easier for them to benefit from therapy, meaning that medication and therapy work well when used together.
Home Remedies to help Schizophreniform
Schizophreniform disorder is a serious condition that warrants professional medical attention and management. There are no safe or effective home remedies that can be used instead of seeing a health professional. However, in consultation with a doctor, therapist or psychiatrist, you’re likely to learn coping skills and strategies which should be used at home. Read on to learn more.
Living with Schizophreniform
- Avoid using illicit drugs and alcohol, as these may trigger another psychotic episode.
- Reduce your stress – another risk factor for a psychotic episode. You might do this through yoga, meditation, meeting a friend for a movie or taking a walk in nature. Work with your therapist to find the right stress-busting techniques for you.
- Eat healthily and exercise regularly. Weight gain is a common side-effect of antipsychotic medications, so try to maintain a healthy lifestyle, which will improve your physical health, mood, self-esteem and stress levels.
- Get enough good quality sleep. This will help improve your mood and mental functioning during the day, as well as helping you to de-stress. Visit the National Sleep Foundation’s pointers on how to keep good sleep hygiene
- Look after yourself by making time for activities that relax you and give you pleasure. This may be a new hobby or an old one that you previously enjoyed.
- Keep in touch with your friends and family. Keeping socially active and connected is beneficial while in recovery.
Insurance Coverage for Schizophreniform
Schizophreniform Disorder is recognized by the American Psychiatric Association as an official psychiatric disorder. For this reason, you’re likely to receive compensation if your insurance policy includes mental health benefits. Speak to your doctor or insurance company to find out exactly what your benefits are.
How to Find a Therapist
Your doctor should be able to recommend an appropriate therapist. Alternatively, search online or ask your health insurance for recommendations. If you know other individuals who have had a psychotic episode, they may also be able to point you in the right direction.
What Should I be Looking for in an LMHP?
Ideally, you would want to be seeing someone who has experience working with psychosis. It’s also important that you feel safe and comfortable talking to them, so don’t hesitate to “trial” one or more therapists before deciding who you would like to see. Finally, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Supportive Psychotherapy are two therapy techniques which have been shown to be effective in managing psychosis, so if you’re chosen therapist uses these techniques that’s a bonus.
Questions to Ask a Potential Therapist
- Are you experienced in treating schizophreniform disorder?
- How would you go about treating this condition?
- What can I expect from a therapy session?
- Will you work with my family?
- What sort of goals would you suggest for therapy?
- How could treatment help me?
- How long are the sessions and how often will we meet?
- Will my insurance cover any of the sessions?
Schizophreniform Resources and Support Helpline
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
- Resources for carers: https://www.rethink.org/diagnosis-treatment/conditions/schizophrenia/for-carers
- National Alliance on Mental Illness: https://www.nami.org/
- Schizophrenia and Related Disorders Alliance of America: https://sardaa.org/
- A workbook for living with psychosis: https://www.heretohelp.bc.ca/workbook/dealing-with-psychosis-a-toolkit-for-moving-forward-with-your-life