People with schizophrenia may not show any signs leading up to the condition’s onset. When they do occur, they can vary widely. They may include changes in personal hygiene habits or a loss of interest in activities.

Schizophrenia is a mental health condition associated with delusions, hallucinations, “negative” symptoms, and cognitive decline. The condition can majorly affect a person’s overall well-being and their work, schooling, and home life.

Many people with schizophrenia go through an early stage where symptoms develop and worsen. This can look different for everyone.

This article reviews what the medical community knows about the early stages of schizophrenia, signs at different ages, symptoms, and more.

A note about sex and gender

Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.

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A 2017 study notes that about 75% of people with schizophrenia pass through a prodromal stage. This is a period when subtle changes to thoughts, behaviors, and moods start to occur.

The progression from displaying early signs to having the criteria for a diagnosis of schizophrenia can take months to years. However, estimates in the same study suggest that only about 1 in 4 people with subthreshold psychosis symptoms, nonspecific anxiety, and affective symptoms develop schizophrenia.

The prodromal stage does not involve a set of specific symptoms. Instead, symptoms can gradually develop over this period.

Medical professionals refer to schizophrenia in children under the age of 18 as early-onset schizophrenia. It develops in about 0.4% of children aged 5–18 years old and is even more rare in those under 5.

Assessment and diagnostic criteria for children are the same as for adults. However, doctors often misdiagnose it as another condition, such as obsessive–compulsive disorder (OCD), an affective condition, or another psychotic disorder.

Before diagnosis, a child may show signs such as:

  • social withdrawal and isolation
  • academic difficulties
  • behavioral issues
  • speech and language difficulties
  • cognitive issues

Schizophrenia in teenagers is also known as early-onset schizophrenia unless they are 18 or over. Often, symptoms and signs develop slowly over time. Family members or friends may notice differences in the teen’s thinking patterns, moods, and social functioning.

Some early signs in teens can include common and nonspecific adolescent behaviors, such as:

Schizophrenia typically starts at different ages based on gender. Males tend to develop the condition between their late teens and early 20s. Females tend to develop schizophrenia in their 30s.

Early signs and symptoms can come on gradually and may be very subtle at first. Some potential signs include:

Late-onset schizophrenia occurs in adults after the age of 45. About 20% of all cases develop at age 40–60.

Very late-onset schizophrenia occurs when symptoms present after the age of 60. About 60% of psychosis in older people is secondary to neurodegenerative disorders, which means distinguishing between schizophrenia and secondary disorders plays a part in diagnosis.

Some evidence suggests it is more common in females, those with high levels of occupational functioning, and people in marital relationships. Symptoms often include severe paranoid delusions and more visual, tactile, and olfactory hallucinations.

Less frequently, a person may experience disorganization and negative symptoms.

Symptoms or signs of schizophrenia can begin weeks, months, or years before clinical diagnosis. Diagnosis can occur at any age. The condition affects people of all genders equally.

Early onset

Early onset schizophrenia occurs when a person receives a diagnosis in childhood or in their teens. Diagnosis in children is less common than in teens or young adults.


Late-onset schizophrenia first appears when a person is 40 years old or older. Very late-onset occurs when a person receives a diagnosis after the age of 60.

Treatment for schizophrenia can be effective and help a person maintain or regain their typical life activities.

It often involves a multidisciplinary approach that may include:

Additional therapies and support can help a person maintain more or all of their independence. Treatments can include group therapy, coordinated care, and treating any alcohol or drug dependencies a person may have developed.

The following are answers to some questions people commonly ask about schizophrenia.

What are three warning signs of schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia often starts slowly. Leading up to diagnosis or the first clinical symptoms, a person may display changes to their:

  • thoughts
  • social behaviors
  • mood

These are generally nonspecific and may initially go unnoticed.

How does schizophrenia start?

Schizophrenia can start gradually or with sudden symptoms. If symptoms come on slowly, friends and family may initially notice subtle changes in behaviors, mood, and thought patterns.

For more research-backed information and resources on mental health and well-being, please visit our dedicated hub.

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Schizophrenia is a mental health condition that causes changes in thinking, feeling, and behavior. Although it can develop at any age, symptoms typically appear between the late teens and early adulthood.

Early signs can occur gradually, and people may not notice them at first or mistake them for other issues. They can also mirror typical behaviors that vary with age, such as developmental delays in children or conditions secondary to dementia in older adults.

Treatment can help a person with schizophrenia maintain some or all of their independence and live a fulfilling life.