Understanding the Schizophrenia Spectrum

Understanding the Schizophrenia Spectrum

When discussing mental illnesses, it is common to miss some of the nuances of such a complex field. However, it is because of the fact that these disorders are complex that making sure the public understands their intricate nature is that much more important. One such illness that illustrates this point is schizophrenia. Many people might not know that schizophrenia, like autism, also has a spectrum of disorders that are all distinct from each other. 

The three schizophrenia spectrum disorders include schizoaffective disorder, schizophreniform disorder, and schizotypal personality disorder. Schizoaffective disorder is categorized as a combination of schizophrenia and mood disorder symptoms. Meaning, people suffering from this disorder may have hallucinations or delusions and depression or mania. As a result, people with schizoaffective disorder are often misdiagnosed with having either schizophrenia or a mood disorder. The treatment is then tailored to one or the other, leaving the other disorder unattended (Mayo Clinic, 2019).

Schizophreniform is described as a short-term version of schizophrenia, where the person has symptoms of schizophrenia that last longer than a month, but less than 6 months. Despite it being described as short-term schizophrenia, this disorder causes people to suffer intense and lengthy psychotic episodes. In the case of schizophreniform, about two-thirds of the people diagnosed go on to develop schizophrenia. In more extreme cases, they also show signs of depression which means a possible transition into the schizoaffective side of the spectrum. Researchers are unsure why the disorder continues to progress for some and seemingly goes away for others, but they believe it may be related to genetics (Cleveland Clinic, 2019).

The last disorder on the spectrum is schizotypal personality disorder. Now, this disorder shares two symptoms of schizophrenia that are also associated with the other disorders: hallucination and delusion. However, it is quite distinct in the fact that it is not considered a form of psychosis. People with schizotypal personality disorder do not lose contact with reality in the same way people with schizophrenia do. These psychotic episodes are brief and are not as frequent or intense as the episodes associated with schizophrenia. Unlike people with schizophrenia, people with schizotypal personality disorder can be made aware of the difference between their psychotic episodes and reality. This disorder is diagnosed by looking at how the person interacts socially. Along with the unique psychotic episodes, people with schizotypal personality disorder tend to have difficulty identifying and responding appropriately to social cues. This is one of the reasons why people with this disorder can be misdiagnosed with autism (Mayo Clinic, 2019).

If one lesson can be learned after reading through the different disorders in the schizophrenia spectrum at length, it should be that throwing a blanket term over someone’s disorder minimizes their struggle. There are clear distinctions between each disorder that are unique to each case, and people aren’t just dealing with the delusions or hallucinations that are most commonly associated with schizophrenia. Also, at the end of the day, it only benefits someone to expand their knowledge of mental health because you can’t predict when it might come in handy. 



Schizoaffective disorder – Symptoms and causes. (2019). Mayo Clinic;   https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/schizoaffective-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20354504 

Schizophreniform Disorder: Symptoms, Causes & Treatments. (2014). Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/9571-schizophreniform-disorder 

Schizotypal personality disorder – Symptoms and causes. (2019). Mayo Clinic;   https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/schizotypal-personality-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20353919

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