What Is The Cause Of Schizophrenia and When Are People First Diagnosed?

Published: September 30, 2015
Dear What Is The Cause Of Schizophrenia and When Are People First Diagnosed?,

I have been having schizophrenic symptoms since I was 13 and I was recently diagnosed with schizophrenia at 16 but I'm kinda confused. I googled it and it says that schizophrenia only starts affecting people when they're like 18-22? Then I looked up early onset schizophrenia and it says that you're either born with it or you get it when you're like a toddler if it's early onset. I'm not either of those ages so I'm wondering how I got schizophrenia. :/ Is it possible to hit people at different ages?

Dear What Is The Cause Of Schizophrenia and When Are People First Diagnosed?,

For our readers who may not know, schizophrenia is a mental health disorder in which people interpret reality in an abnormal way. This may occur in the form of hallucinations, delusions, or various types of significantly disordered thinking and behavior.

The exact cause of schizophrenia is not known, but researchers believe that the cause is from a combination of genetics and environmental factors. People with schizophrenia appear to have problems with naturally occurring brain chemicals. Schizophrenia is also thought to be a brain disease based on the differences in the brain structure and central nervous system of people with schizophrenia that has been seen in neuroimaging studies.

There are certain risk factors associated with developing schizophrenia:

  • Having a family history of schizophrenia

  • Exposure to viruses, toxins or malnutrition while in the womb, particularly in the first and second trimesters.

  • Increased immune system activation, such as from inflammation or autoimmune diseases

  • Older age of father

  • Taking mind-altering drugs during adolescence and/or as a young adult

As far as onset, it is important to know that schizophrenia appears gradually in most people who have been diagnosed with it. Often there are subtle warning signs and a gradual decline in functioning long before any kind of severe episode occurs that makes it clear that psychotic symptoms are present and schizophrenia is likely.

The following information presented by the National Institute of Mental Health will also help in answering you questions about when schizophrenia starts and who gets it:

Schizophrenia affects men and women equally. It occurs at similar rates in all ethnic groups around the world. Symptoms such as hallucinations and delusions usually start between ages 16 and 30. Men tend to experience symptoms a little earlier than women. Most of the time, people do not get schizophrenia after age 45. Schizophrenia rarely occurs in children, but awareness of childhood-onset schizophrenia is increasing.

It can be difficult to diagnose schizophrenia in teens. This is because the first signs can include a change of friends, a drop in grades, sleep problems, and irritability—behaviors that are common among teens. A combination of factors can predict schizophrenia in up to 80 percent of youth who are at high risk of developing the illness. These factors include isolating oneself and withdrawing from others, an increase in unusual thoughts and suspicions, and a family history of psychosis. In young people who develop the disease, this stage of the disorder is called the "prodromal" period.


Given that you said you have been recently diagnosed with schizophrenia, TeenHealthFX is assuming that you are currently in mental health treatment. If you are not, then it is important that you meet regularly with a reputable therapist, such as a clinical social worker or clinical psychologist, as well as a reputable psychiatrist as psychotropic medications are crucial in treating the symptoms associated with schizophrenia. Treatment for people with schizophrenia is a lifelong thing, and will help to better manage the symptoms. The other important thing about being in treatment is having professionals who can provide the education you need about schizophrenia – the causes, age of onset, the most effective treatment options, etc. That said, FX can certainly give you some information here, but we strongly suggest you discuss your questions and concerns with your mental health providers as well.

If you live in northern New Jersey and need help finding a therapist you can call the Access Center from Atlantic Behavioral Health at 888-247-1400. Outside of this area you can log onto the US Department of Health and Human Services Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website for referrals in your area. You can also contact your insurance company to get a list of in-network mental health providers or check with your school social worker or psychologist to get a list of referrals in your area.

For more information, you can read the HelpGuide.org article on Schizophrenia, as well as the NIMH article, What is schizophrenia?