A person does not suddenly wake up one morning with a new illness called schizophrenia. The development of schizophrenia is a process that takes place over varying periods of time depending on the individual, but it is never a sudden manifestation. There might the first sudden noticing of the symptoms however. The process of the revealing of this latent illness in the brain happens in a typical fashion, enough so for most everyone dealing with it that we can now classify four stages of schizophrenia.
The four stages or phases of schizophrenia can be labeled as:
- The Prodromal Stage
- The Acute Stage
- The Remission Stage
- The Relapse Stage
Let’s take a look at each of these individually and see what’s involved at each various stage or phase.
The Prodromal Stage of Schizophrenia
In this stage of prodromal schizophrenia a person may very well not notice that anything is happening to them because the changes are so subtle and slight in their growth. Other people around them will likely notice these changes before the sufferer does due to the peculiarity of being the experiencer. The symptoms that begin here can easily be confused as something other than schizophrenia because they don’t just resemble symptoms from other disorders, they are symptoms from other disorders. A person may begin feeling a sense of depression, anxiety, nervousness, and other typical and normal mood fluctuations. For the normal onset of schizophrenia during the late teens and early adulthood, these are very common feelings to have anyways as we travel through our lives and encounter the stresses of adulthood, careers, relationships, etc. The more obvious symptoms to look for are out-of-character anger outbursts, strange behaviors, or social withdrawal. This stage of schizophrenia can last for months or years before developing into the acute stage.
The Acute Stage (Or Active Stage)
This is the phase where schizophrenia could be said to be fully developed. In this acute stage, the true symptoms of schizophrenia will manifest themselves at their peak intensity. One may become completely aware for the first time that there is a problem due to the sudden experience of an acute psychotic break. This means that psychosis has appeared in full-force. But it doesn’t always happen suddenly and can again be a gradual appearance. Either way, the individual may or may not retain enough awareness of the problem to realize anything is wrong and ask for help. Perhaps they will or friends and family will notice. This is typically when the first hospital and psychiatric visits occur and a diagnosis can be made. This stage of highly active and intense symptoms tends to last on average six weeks but can reside in as little as four weeks or as long as eight weeks. Then the symptoms go into remission.
The Remission Stage
After the intense activity of the symptoms reside they are said to have gone into remission. The intensity and appearance of the symptoms may decrease drastically and some may disappear altogether. With treatment, they can be kept at bay for long periods of time and normal functioning can continue for the most part. If you’re reading this with a sense of hope, please do feel hope and hang in there! However, don’t expect the symptoms to be gone forever. Sometimes they can be managed in that way, but it is more realistic to expect the possibility of symptom cycling, which means a relapse might occur. Through these cycles though, you will gain practice and with the help of the psychiatrist you can dial in the perfect type and amount of medication and possibly achieve complete remission.
The Relapse Stage
The relapse stage is just the reappearance of the symptoms back to an acute level. This can be avoided or at least the damage minimized by continuing to follow the treatment plan laid out for you by your doctor. You can also become familiar with the feelings and signs of an impending relapse and speak to your doctor right away. There may be ways to keep it at bay medically. Also, arm yourself with the knowledge of why many people dealing with schizophrenia tend to not reach out for help during these times, such as the appearance of paranoia which confuses clear thinking. One of the big ways people end up causing a relapse is that when their symptoms are in remission they think they don’t need their medication any more and they stop taking it. There are probably uncomfortable side effects to some of the medications, but they are less severe than the full blown active stage symptoms. You can probably ask to switch medications to something that doesn’t give you unreasonable side effects as well.
As always, continue with your medication plan, stay in counseling and therapy, social support groups, and stay healthy in other ways. By doing this, the complications of schizophrenia can be held to a minimum.