Schizophrenia causes changes in a person’s thinking and behavior. Symptoms usually appear when people are in their 20s, though the average age of onset can vary.

One 2020 study found that the average age of onset for schizophrenia is between 13.78 and 29.28 years old. Environmental, genetic, and other factors may affect the age of onset.

Additionally, the age of onset for schizophrenia may affect the condition’s course. Most studies show that people who develop schizophrenia in childhood or adolescence have more symptoms.

In addition to the onset of schizophrenia symptoms, many people with schizophrenia experience a prodrome. This is a group of mental health symptoms, such as depression, mood shifts, and irritability, that may be present for months or even years before schizophrenia appears.

An older 2014 study suggests that the schizophrenia prodrome may appear up to 9 years prior to the onset of the condition.

Knowing the average age of schizophrenia onset reveals little about whether or when an individual might develop this condition.

Keep reading to learn more about the average age of onset for schizophrenia, including early onset, late onset, and some early symptoms of the condition.

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Symptoms of schizophrenia usually appear late in adolescence or early in adulthood.

The typical age of onset for schizophrenia symptoms is in the 20s, though people may develop other symptoms as early as 9 years before diagnosis. As noted above, a 2020 study found the average age of onset for schizophrenia to be between 13.78 and 29.28 years.

However, less noticeable symptoms of schizophrenia, such as erratic moods or depression, may occur many years before diagnosis. Doctors call this a prodrome. Prodromal symptoms may indicate that a person has a higher risk of developing schizophrenia.

Adults of all ages may have symptoms of schizophrenia. However, it is rare for symptoms to appear for the first time after the age of 40 years. Schizophrenia in children under the age of 12 years is also rare.

As much as 20% of people with schizophrenia develop symptoms after the age of 40 years — usually between the ages of 40 and 60 years. This is late-onset schizophrenia. There is an ongoing debate about whether this is the same disease, with the same risk factors, as schizophrenia that occurs prior to midlife or early-onset schizophrenia.

Early-onset schizophrenia occurs before a person’s 20s. It is rare for children under the age of 12 years to have symptoms of schizophrenia. Doctors call this very early-onset schizophrenia.

Early-onset schizophrenia occurs in teenagers ages 13–18 years. It is more common than childhood schizophrenia, but it is still fairly uncommon.

Numerous studies on early-onset schizophrenia have reached mixed conclusions about the course of the condition. However, more recent research suggests that symptoms tend to be more severe when they appear early in life.

A 2017 systematic review and meta-analysis correlated early-onset schizophrenia with:

  • more hospitalizations
  • more relapses
  • more negative symptoms
  • less social functioning
  • less employment functioning
  • less overall functioning

The older 2014 study above suggests that exposure to more environmental risk factors for schizophrenia in people with a genetic predisposition to the disease might cause symptoms to appear earlier in life.

Schizophrenia affects a person’s ability to think clearly and draw accurate conclusions about the world around them. The symptoms include:

  • hallucinations, or perceiving things others do not
  • delusions, or thinking things that appear to be untrue
  • changes in emotional expression
  • cognitive issues
  • relationship difficulties
  • atypical or socially unacceptable behaviors

Some, but not all, people who develop schizophrenia have other mental health symptoms before schizophrenia symptoms appear. These may include:

Learn more about the stages of schizophrenia.

Suicide prevention

If you know someone at immediate risk of self-harm, suicide, or hurting another person:

  • Ask the tough question: “Are you considering suicide?”
  • Listen to the person without judgment.
  • Call 911 or the local emergency number, or text TALK to 741741 to communicate with a trained crisis counselor.
  • Stay with the person until professional help arrives.
  • Try to remove any weapons, medications, or other potentially harmful objects.

If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, a prevention hotline can help. The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is available 24 hours a day at 988. During a crisis, people who are hard of hearing can use their preferred relay service or dial 711 then 988.

Find more links and local resources.

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Like other mental illnesses, schizophrenia has complex biological, social, psychological, and developmental roots.

Genetics play an important role. A 2021 article reports that if both parents have schizophrenia, a person has a 40% chance of developing the condition. When one identical twin has schizophrenia, their twin also has the condition in 46% of cases.

While a person cannot change their genes and this data points to the important role of genetics, it also shows that genes are not the only — or even necessarily, the most important — factor.

Recent research increasingly treats schizophrenia as a developmental condition, which means that factors that occur during development can increase the risk of schizophrenia, especially in people who are already at a genetically high risk.

Some early developmental risk factors include:

  • inadequate prenatal nutrition
  • infection in the gestational parent during pregnancy
  • oxygen deprivation at birth
  • trauma
  • cannabis use

Minimizing these risk factors may reduce the risk of developing schizophrenia. Quality prenatal care, access to nutritious food and support during pregnancy, and support to ensure people only become pregnant when they are ready to care for themselves and the pregnancy may all reduce the risk of schizophrenia.

Similarly, measures that reduce the risk of childhood trauma, such as reducing childhood poverty and supporting at-risk families, may help.

The correlation between cannabis use and schizophrenia is not clear, but people with a family history of the condition may wish to avoid cannabis, even medical cannabis.

Here are some questions people often ask about schizophrenia.

How does schizophrenia first appear?

Some people have mental health symptoms or conditions, such as depression, mood changes, and sleep problems, before schizophrenia appears. Signs that a person may have schizophrenia include perceiving or believing things that are not real and changes in how they relate to other people and express their emotions.

Can people with schizophrenia lead a normal life?

Each person’s definition of a “normal” life is different, so there is no conclusive way to define how the condition will affect people.

However, many people with schizophrenia can work and carry out other typical daily tasks, but this will depend on the severity of the condition and the effect of treatment.

Schizophrenia is a chronic illness that usually lasts a lifetime, though treatment can manage symptoms. Some people find full relief with treatment, while others may relapse or try several different treatments before getting any relief.

While the average age of schizophrenia onset can help with determining whether a person’s symptoms may stem from schizophrenia, people of any age can have schizophrenia.

Age is not a good predictor of schizophrenia risk, since many factors influence individual schizophrenia risk. There is no age at which the risk of developing schizophrenia disappears.

Many people with schizophrenia do not realize they have symptoms. This is because disconnection from reality and false beliefs are hallmarks of schizophrenia. Helping a person with schizophrenia seek treatment may be difficult.

People who think they might have schizophrenia, or whose loved ones have expressed concern, should contact a mental health professional or doctor for guidance.