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Diagnosis - Schizophrenia

There is 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 (CMHT). They support people with complex mental health conditions.

A psychiatrist or a specialist nurse will assess your symptoms. They'll ask about your 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 1 or more of the following symptoms regularly for a month:

  • delusions
  • hallucinations
  • hearing voices
  • incoherent speech
  • negative symptoms, such as a flattening of emotions

You may be diagnosed if your symptoms have 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.

Related illnesses

Sometimes it might not be clear if someone has schizophrenia. If you have other symptoms at the same time, you may have a related mental illness. This could be bipolar disorder or schizoaffective disorder.

Bipolar 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.

Schizoaffective disorder

Schizoaffective disorder 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 happen once in a lifetime, or come and go. It can also be triggered by stress.

If you show signs of schizoaffective disorder, you may also be assessed for:

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.

Someone who had acute episodes in the past may 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 episode may refuse to get help. In this case, their nearest relative can ask for a mental health assessment. The community mental health team (CMHT) can 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.’

After diagnosis

If you are diagnosed, you may feel anxious about what will happen. You may feel frightened and withdrawn.

But it's important to remember that a diagnosis can be a positive step. It can help to get information about the illness and the types of treatment and services available.

Diagnosing children and young people

Children and young people with a first episode should be urgently referred to a specialist mental health service. For example, child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS).

Mental health supports and services for young people

Content supplied by the NHS and adapted for Ireland by the HSE

Page last reviewed: 1 September 2022
Next review due: 1 September 2025