Some of those who receive a schizophrenia diagnosis may have the hope that it’s a temporary condition. That the symptoms of schizophrenia disorder might be a brief situation and with medication and proper therapy, it will soon go away.
Unfortunately, schizophrenia is not a temporary condition and one with long-term symptoms. However, there is a temporary condition similar to schizophrenia that you may actually be struggling with. Throughout this article, we’re going to review whether or not schizophrenia is temporary. At the end, we invite you to ask further questions.
What is Schizophrenia?
Schizophrenia disorder is a mental affliction categorized by a serious change in one’s own thoughts, behaviors, or feelings which are exhibited by psychotic, cognitive, and behavioral symptoms that worsen over time. ¹ An estimated 2.6 million US adults suffer from schizophrenia and most of them have found ways to live and cope with the disorder within their day to day lives. ²
Schizophrenia is determined by a common set of symptoms that fall under specific subsets relating to how the disorder typically affects patients. The three subsets of schizophrenia symptoms are as follows:
Common Cognitive Symptoms
Cognitive schizophrenia symptoms most commonly involve the sufferer’s difficulties and in certain cases, their inability to concentrate, pay attention, and process or retain memories. The common cognitive symptoms are:³
- Difficulties in retaining key pieces of information which may hinder learning new tasks
- Easily distracted from tasks or have trailing thoughts
- Issues in concentrating on tasks and situations that might be new or was once natural to the sufferer
Common Psychotic Symptoms
When one thinks of schizophrenia disorder and its related symptoms, they are most often thinking about the psychotic manifestation. Psychotic symptoms relate to alteration of the inner thinking of the sufferer and how they interact with their day-to-day world. Common psychotic symptoms are: ⁴
- Auditory or visual hallucinations
- Delusional thoughts and beliefs. Common examples include:
- Prophetic phobia of the outside world
- Falsely held belief that someone is “after them”
- The media is sending signals or patterns that must be acted upon
- Disorganized or strange speech, speech patterns or word choices
Common Behavioral Symptoms
Behavioral symptoms might resemble depressive symptoms that are exhibited by actions, propelled by a lack of motivation, and may seem concerning as it looks like the sufferer is withdrawing from society. Some of the common behavioral symptoms of schizophrenia are: ⁵
- An apparent reduction in the motivation to do things that are commonly thought were enjoyable or ordinary
- Having what can be described by mental health professionals as a “flat expression,” meaning that the person struggling is unable or unwilling to show their emotions or feelings outwardly
- Loss of overall joy, pleasantness and happiness, resulting in inaction and disassociation
- Reduction in speaking, conversing with others (i.e. friends, family, coworkers)
Diagnosing schizophrenia isn’t a simple process. It requires a detailed and thorough evaluation from a mental health professional. They will evaluate the patient, their symptoms, and their family history.
If signs and symptoms of schizophrenia have persisted for a period of time, a psychologist will most likely diagnose schizophrenia and begin the treatment process.
Is Schizophrenia Temporary?
Unfortunately, the reality is that schizophrenia isn’t temporary. Instead, it’s a cyclical chronic mental health disorder that requires proper treatment and evaluation.
However, there is something called brief psychotic disorder (or temporary psychosis) – a kind of psychosis that mimics certain symptoms and effects of schizophrenia. While this condition is temporary, it isn’t specifically tied to schizophrenia.
What is Brief Psychotic Disorder?
Brief psychotic disorder is a mental health phenomenon that occurs in those that find themselves suffering from psychosis or a break from their reality. This is usually brought on by stress or as a consequence from a traumatic event. ⁶
Brief psychotic disorder is temporary and can seem to align with certain symptoms of schizophrenia disorder. However, unlike schizophrenia, brief psychotic disorder is like its namesake – brief in duration and does not have a cyclical and chronic manifestation like schizophrenia usually does.
Brief Psychotic Disorder vs. Schizophrenia: What’s the Difference?
Schizophrenia and brief psychotic disorder both include psychotic, behavioral and, cognitive symptoms that are very closely relation. Yet, the duration and intensity of those symptoms differ between the two distinct disorders. Not to mention, the conditions have a number of other differences that are important to observe:
The causes of schizophrenia can usually be traced back to an individual’s own genealogy and biological history. Through family links to the disorder and other mental health issues that afflict their family members that have come before them.
However, there are other reasons for the cause of schizophrenia and they can be from a multitude of things – from pregnancy complications to childhood trauma to prolong use of hard drugs. Research has found that people can develop schizophrenia due specifically to drug use. Yet, it’s important to note that the drugs themselves don’t usually cause schizophrenia – rather, they bring out symptoms that were already present within an individual.
Substance dependency and abuse is common among those with mental health issues and are evident among those who are diagnosed with schizophrenia. Nearly 50% of patients exhibit either alcohol or illicit drug dependence and more than 70% being dependent on nicotine.⁷
While schizophrenia is developed through biological and genetic factors and exacerbated by situational circumstances, the causes of brief psychotic disorder are less intertwined with an individual’s biology. Instead, it’s more circumstantial and brought on as a consequence of stress and trauma. ⁸
Brief psychotic disorder regularly afflicts younger people, mainly in their late teens to their late twenties with some experiencing it in their 30’s and 40’s but not as often. Some have linked brief psychotic disorder to those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). But PTSD is a cyclical chronic mental condition whereas brief psychotic disorder is more a temporary reaction to extreme stress, violence, or traumatic events.⁹
The symptoms of both brief psychotic disorder and schizophrenia are very similar, but there are a few key differences. Time is the largest variant between these two mental health circumstances and can usually confirm whether you’re struggling with one or the other.
With brief psychotic disorder, the symptoms may mirror some of the larger schizophrenia symptoms but the range, ferocity and occurrence of these similar symptoms pale in comparison to schizophrenia.
While it is true that those who suffer from brief psychotic disorder may resemble those that suffer from schizophrenia, it’s keep in mind that brief psychotic disorder generally only lasts around a month. Oftentimes the effects on those struggling could be shortened to a few weeks or even a couple of days. This is due to the fact that it’s an immediate response to a stressful event or trauma and, therefore, doesn’t leave a lasting imprint on the mental state of the sufferer.
When we look at stats for these two mental health issues, only schizophrenia has clear numbers and information. An estimated 2.6 million US adults suffer from schizophrenia and 20 million are affected worldwide.
There have been estimates as to how many people suffer from brief psychotic disorder and the results are insightful. On average, more men than women experience a brief psychotic response to circumstances of extreme stress or harm. The age range for those that suffer from brief psychotic disorder remains pretty consistent with those suffering the most between the ages of 15 to 35. ¹⁰
Diagnosing schizophrenia and brief psychotic disorder both require a mental health professional to intervene on the patient and their psychosis. Most patients will undergo an evaluation to figure out what their symptoms are and get more background information on their family’s medical history. From this, professionals will be able to draw conclusions on diagnosis.
For schizophrenia specifically, it can be incredibly hard to diagnose – especially in situations where the patient may have a history with other mental health conditions. Most notably, a substance abuse disorder. Drug use among those suffering from schizophrenia is common as both a way to self-medicate. ¹¹
In order to identify whether a patient is struggling with brief psychotic disorder or schizophrenia, professionals will likely look closely at the timeframe of symptoms. If you’ve only recently started experiencing symptoms, a psychologist will try to pinpoint if there’s any specific event that led to these symptoms. If there is none, it’s likely you’ll be closely monitored in order to track if symptoms continue to develop.
Although there aren’t really any direct lab or clinical test that can be done to diagnose or differentiate schizophrenia from brief psychotic disorder, a basic metabolic lab panel can be done to rule out any other mental disorders or medical conditions that can cause similar symptoms. Brain scans of the patient is an option if there is anything concerning there in the brain’s overall health ¹²
The major difference between these two disorders is how mental health professionals approach treatment. For brief psychotic disorder, the treatment is far less involved than it would be for schizophrenia. While it is true that both those suffering from schizophrenia and brief psychotic disorder go through talk therapy, it’s the duration and intensity of that therapy which differs. Those with schizophrenia having to undergo long-term or even life-long therapy in order to regulate their symptoms.
This isn’t the case for those with brief psychotic disorder. A brief window of talk therapy is needed to try and coax the patient out of a false sense of reality or artificial sensations. Some medications like anti-psychotics as well as antidepressants can be administered in order to help ease the patient from their temporary psychosis.
Living with psychosis, in any form, can be incredibly difficult however understanding what form of psychosis one has and coming to grips on how to combat the mental disorder can bring about a new perspective on having a mental illness of this kind.
Whether it be brief psychosis that results from a stressful or traumatic event or longterm schizophrenia, the best thing to do in times of trouble and strife is to arm oneself with knowledge and find ways to cope effective and healthfully in order to cement ways to coexist with these disorders. There is never one simplistic answer to these complicated circumstances that come around in our lives but by being informed, you set yourself in the right direction for help, health and healing.
Still have questions about the difference between schizophrenia and brief psychotic disorder?
We invite you to ask them in the comments section below. If you have any further knowledge to share – whether personal or professional – we’d also love to hear from you.
¹ National Institute of Mental Health: Schizophrenia – Overview
² National Alliance on Mental Health: Mental Health By The Numbers – You Are Not Alone
³ Living With Schizophrenia UK: Cognitive Symptoms of Schizophrenia
⁴ National Institute of Mental Health: Schizophrenia – Onset & Symptoms: Cognitive Symptoms
⁵National Institute of Mental Health: Schizophrenia – Onset & Symptoms: Negative Symptoms
⁶ US National Library of Medicine’s MedlinePlus: Brief Psychotic Disorder Causes
⁷ National Center for Biotechnology Information / US Library of Medicine: Substance Abuse In Patients With Schizophrenia
⁸ National Center for Biotechnology Information / US Library of Medicine: Focus on Psychosis
⁹ National Institute of Mental Health: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder – An Overview
¹⁰ Quebeć Ministry of Health: Psychotic Disorders- Risk Factors
¹¹ National Alliance on Mental Health: What is Schizophrenia?
¹² National Center for Biotechnology Information / US Library of Medicine: Brief Psychotic Disorder – Evaluation