Early Signs of Schizophrenia: Onset and Symptoms


Early diagnosis and treatment of schizophrenia increase the chances of a successful recovery. Knowing the early warning signs and how they differ by age group can be important in identifying the onset of schizophrenia and seeking treatment.

Schizophrenia is a chronic mental illness that affects the way a person thinks, feels, and behaves. It usually develops slowly, with early warning signs developing before the first severe episode, when so-called positive symptoms, such as hallucinations and delusions, first appear, which are generally not seen in healthy people. These severe episodes are also called psychosis .

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The age at which someone develops schizophrenia is believed to influence the symptoms they will experience. Although men and women have roughly the same rates of schizophrenia, they tend to develop the disease at slightly different ages.

The first warning signs of schizophrenia

The period when the first warning signs appear is called the prodromal stage. The onset of schizophrenia can last from months to several years, and the first signs differ depending on the age at which the disease develops.

In young children

People diagnosed with schizophrenia in childhood have more developmental problems than those diagnosed in adulthood.

Signs of very early development include:

  • Delayed motor development : for example, you cannot walk until 18 months.
  • Delayed speech and / or language development : For example, if you do not pronounce meaningful two- or three-word phrases until 36 months of age.
  • Disorder of social development at an early age : for example, not using gestures to communicate or not being able to regulate facial expressions.

It is important to note that these problems do not necessarily indicate schizophrenia, but they may be related to something else entirely.

In adolescents

Before schizophrenia begins, adolescents often develop behavioral changes. This can lead to difficulties in school, which is one of the most common problems faced by teens diagnosed with schizophrenia.

The first warning signs include:

  • Concentration and attention problems.
  • Unexplained functional impairment
  • Greater introversion
  • Loneliness
  • Depression
  • Aggression
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Theft
  • Strange behavior

It is difficult to diagnose schizophrenia in adolescents because many features of the condition are common to normal childhood development. For example, a common part of childhood is vivid fantasies and fantasies. However, they can be mistaken for hallucinations, a symptom of schizophrenia.

Those who develop the disease at a young age are more likely to experience certain symptoms compared to those who develop them later.

Children are also believed to be less likely to experience paranoid delusions, which involve the belief that others want to harm them, than people who develop schizophrenia later in life.

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In early adulthood

Schizophrenia usually develops in early adulthood. Its appearance is characterized by behavioral changes and impaired functioning in daily life.

The most common first signs are:

  • Nervousness and / or anxiety
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Difficulty thinking clearly or concentrating
  • Worrying
  • Doubting oneself
  • Lack of energy and / or slowness.
  • Alarming drop in estimates or labor productivity
  • Social isolation and / or concern for other people

Not everyone will experience these early warning signs at the same time in their life. According to some studies, these prodromal symptoms can persist for years.

Although the exact cause of the disorder is unknown, schizophrenia has a strong genetic component and is inherited. Having a family member with schizophrenia increases the risk of developing the disease.

These risk factors will be considered when making a diagnosis if it is suspected that you are experiencing these early warning signs of schizophrenia.

Schizophrenia is estimated to affect approximately 1% of adults worldwide .

Over 45 years old

Most of the early warning signs for this age group are the same as for people who develop schizophrenia in early adulthood. However, there are some differences.

The study found that men who develop schizophrenia over the age of 35 tend to have fewer negative symptoms during the early warning phase. In particular, the study found that they were less likely to experience social isolation and difficulty concentrating.

Some scientists believe that those who develop schizophrenia later in life will experience less disorganized thinking and negative symptoms.

When do the symptoms of schizophrenia begin?

Symptoms usually begin in early adulthood, between the late teens and early 30s. The disease usually manifests itself a little earlier in men than in women. Symptoms usually appear between the late teens and early 20s in men and between 20 and 30 years in women.

Early schizophrenia

If the disease is diagnosed before the age of 18, it is called early-onset schizophrenia (EOS). DED is rare, with an estimated prevalence of 0.23%. Even less often, very young children develop the disease. It is called infantile schizophrenia (COS) when the disease is diagnosed before the age of 13.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, approximately one in 40,000 children will have SOC. SOC is believed to develop before age 10 is extremely rare.

Late schizophrenia

Although schizophrenia occurs most often between the late teens and early 30s, it is estimated that up to 20% of patients develop symptoms for the first time after the age of 40. Some scholars have identified this as a subtype of schizophrenia called late-onset schizophrenia (LOS).

Women are more likely to fall into this group than men. Symptoms generally develop during menopause between the ages of 44 and 49. However, even in women, schizophrenia is more likely to develop in early adulthood than at this age.


In the early stages of schizophrenia, this disorder can be confused with others, including depression. This is because most of the most common early warning signs of schizophrenia are also the most common initial symptoms of moderate to severe depression.

Only after positive symptoms (such as hallucinations, delusions, disorganized thoughts and speech) have developed, will it be easier to distinguish schizophrenia from mood disorders such as depression.

People with schizophrenia can experience suicidal thoughts. The risk of suicide for people with schizophrenia is higher for men and for those who develop the disease at a young age.

Depression is considered a major risk factor for suicide among people with schizophrenia. Having other disorders that are widespread among people with schizophrenia, such as substance use disorder, also increases the risk of suicide.

Substance abuse is generally associated with poor recovery outcomes. For those affected, a comprehensive plan that includes substance use disorder treatment along with schizophrenia is important.

When to contact a healthcare provider

Because schizophrenia usually develops gradually, it can be difficult to determine exactly when behavior changes begin or to know if they are cause for concern. Acknowledging that you are experiencing disruptive behavior may be a sign that you should seek professional advice.

Symptoms may increase in anticipation of acute psychosis in schizophrenia. Warning signs include:

  • Alarming drop in estimates or labor productivity
  • New difficulty thinking clearly or concentrating
  • Suspicion or anxiety towards others.
  • Withdrawal from communication, spending much more time alone than usual
  • Unusual, overly intense new ideas, strange feelings, or no feelings
  • Decreased personal care or personal hygiene.
  • It's hard to tell reality from fantasy
  • Confusing speech or communication problems

While these changes may not matter on their own, if you or your loved one are experiencing any of these symptoms, you should see a mental health professional. It can be difficult for people with schizophrenia to get help, especially if they experience symptoms such as paranoia .

If you or someone you love thinks or talks about harming yourself, seek immediate help from someone who can help. You can call the 24-hour National Suicide Prevention Lifeline toll-free at 800-237-8255.

If you need immediate emergency care, call 911 or go to the nearest hospital emergency room.

Get the word of drug information

Getting help as soon as possible increases your chances of a successful recovery. If you are concerned about any changes in behavior, you should speak to your doctor or your loved one's healthcare provider. The first warning signs mentioned above do not necessarily indicate schizophrenia and may be related to something else, but may still require medical attention.

This is especially true for children. Since schizophrenia is very rare in this age group, it is likely that even if you experience the first warning signs above, your child does not have the disorder.

If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with schizophrenia, know that there are effective treatments that can help you manage your symptoms.

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