Schizophrenia - Diagnosis
There's no single test for schizophrenia. The condition is usually diagnosed after assessment by a mental health specialist.
If you're concerned you may be developing schizophrenia, talk to your GP as soon as possible.
Your GP will ask about your symptoms and check they're not the result of other causes. For example, recreational drug use.
Community mental health team
If your GP thinks you may have schizophrenia, they will refer you to a community mental health team. They support people with complex mental health conditions.
A psychiatrist or a specialist nurse will carry out an assessment of your symptoms. They'll also want to know your personal history and current circumstances.
To make a diagnosis, most mental healthcare professionals use a diagnostic checklist.
A diagnosis is usually made if you have experienced one or more of these regularly for a month:
- hearing voices
- incoherent speech
- negative symptoms, such as a flattening of emotions
You may be diagnosed if your symptoms have had an impact on your ability to work, study or perform daily tasks.
The psychiatrist, or a specialist nurse, will rule out other possible causes first. For example, recreational drug use or bipolar disorder.
Sometimes it might not be clear whether someone has schizophrenia. If you have other symptoms at the same time, you have a related mental illness. This could be bipolar disorder or schizoaffective disorder.
If you have bipolar disorder you may have periods of elevated mood, followed by periods of deep depression.
You can go from very active, excited behaviour (mania) to being very low and depressed.
You may also hear voices, experience other kinds of hallucinations or have delusions.
This is often described as a form of schizophrenia. The symptoms are like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. But schizoaffective disorder is a mental illness in its own right.
It may occur once in a lifetime, or come and go. It can also be triggered by stress.
You should also be assessed for:
- post-traumatic stress disorder
- substance misuse
Getting help for someone else
People with schizophrenia may be reluctant to visit their GP. They may believe there's nothing wrong with them. This can be caused by their delusional thought patterns.
It's likely someone who has had acute episodes in the past will already have a care coordinator. If this is the case, contact their care coordinator to express your concerns.
If someone is having an episode for the first time, you might need to persuade them to visit their GP.
For a worsening episode, you may need to go to the emergency department (ED). A duty psychiatrist will be available.
A person having an acute schizophrenic episode may refuse to seek help. In this case, their nearest relative can request a mental health assessment. Social services will tell you how to do this.
In certain circumstances, you may have to be admitted to hospital against your will. This is called an ‘involuntary admission.’
If you are diagnosed, you may feel anxious about what will happen. You may worry about the stigma or feel frightened and withdrawn.
It's important to remember that a diagnosis can be a positive step. It can help to get information about the illness and the kinds of treatment and services available.
Diagnosing children and young people
Aged up to 17
Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS)
Aged 14 years or over
An early intervention service. One with a consultant psychiatrist trained in child and adolescent mental health.
Children and young people with a first episode should be urgently referred to a specialist mental health service.