Medicine has evolved throughout the years with the purpose of improving the quality of life for people suffering from all kinds of ailments. While the development of new treatments and cures have certainly aided in this cause, one aspect that is often overlooked is its impact on the improvement of diagnostic procedures. After all, how can a doctor prescribe treatment if they are unsure what the patient’s problem is? Furthermore, there have been considerable improvements in diagnostic procedures for some areas of health that have progressed faster than others. This is most commonly seen in the mental health sector, as conditions such as schizophrenia are difficult for professionals to diagnose right away.
The only way for medical professionals to diagnose someone with schizophrenia is to see whether that person shows two or more core symptoms for at least a month (Schizophrenia Diagnosis and Tests | Cleveland Clinic, 2018). There are other parameters that medical professionals watch for, but these criteria work as a road map rather than a strict set of directions on how to diagnose schizophrenia. There is a noticeable absence of laboratory tests from the diagnosis process because there is no quantitative data that can be gathered to pinpoint and diagnose schizophrenia. This scenario also exists in other diagnosis procedures of most mental ailments, thus consolidating the fact these medical professionals are under a lot of stress to correctly diagnose patients purely off their behavior and patient testimony.
To ensure that professionals can accurately diagnose people, as mentioned previously, they must observe the person over a period of a month or, in some cases, even longer. The reason being is that they want to be certain that they don’t misdiagnose someone who has schizophrenia with autism, PTSD, bipolar disorder, etc. Conditions such as bipolar disorder and PTSD share a common symptom with schizophrenia, which is psychosis or the disconnection from reality. This point is further discussed by child psychiatrist, Dr. Abhijit Ramanujam, who described how the social impairment aspect of other disorders, such as autism, can sometimes be seen as the negative symptoms (psychosis and social withdrawal) that are associated with schizophrenia (The Realities of Childhood Schizophrenia, 2020). Therefore the large window of time in which medical professionals work to diagnose someone with schizophrenia is mainly used to see the true nature of the symptoms.
Despite the lack of diagnostically relevant laboratory tests, there is technology in the works in order to provide faster diagnoses. Most of the work being done is in the field of biomarkers, which are characteristics that can be measured as indicators of normal biological functioning. In other words, there are tests being made that can determine if schizophrenia will or has clinically manifested. It is not completely foolproof, but it is going to be an important addition to a physician’s diagnostic toolbox. These tests will work to reaffirm or refute an initial diagnosis, thus acting as another parameter to ensure that people are receiving the best possible healthcare (Psychiatry Advisor, 2020).
The future is looking bright for the next generation, as more quality tests are being developed for all kinds of mental illnesses. This will drastically change the landscape of mental healthcare, as people who struggle with mental illnesses will be able to get a simple blood test to be diagnosed. However, until the technology gets there, people should understand that just getting help isn’t as simple as it sounds. Patience goes a long way, as getting over that initial hurdle of getting diagnosed can be intimidating for some.
Schizophrenia Diagnosis and Tests | Cleveland Clinic. (2018). Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/4568-schizophrenia/diagnosis-and-tests#:~:text=According%20to%20the%20DSM%2D5,disorganization%20and%20diminished%20emotional%20expression.
The Realities of Childhood Schizophrenia. (2020). Psychiatric Times. https://www.psychiatrictimes.com/view/realities-childhood-schizophrenia
Psychiatry Advisor. (2020, November 5). Advances in Psychiatry Biomarkers – Psychiatry Advisor. Psychiatry Advisor. https://www.psychiatryadvisor.com/home/topics/general-psychiatry/advances-in-psychiatry-biomarkers/