Research identifies three phases of schizophrenia: prodromal, acute or active, and residual. Although it may seem like people suddenly develop the serious mental illness, known as schizophrenia, this simply isn’t so. You don’t just wake up one day in the throes of full-blown psychosis. Instead, a period of decreased function frequently precedes obvious psychotic symptoms. Once psychotic symptoms begin to emerge, the schizophrenic exhibits a distorted way of thinking and relating to others.
Phases of Schizophrenia
The first of the three phases of schizophrenia, prodromal schizophrenia, or prodrome, occurs when a person just begins to develop the disorder. The term, prodrome, refers to the period of time from when the first change in a person occurs until he or she develops full-blown psychosis. In other words, it’s the time span leading up to the first obvious psychotic episode.
Imagine that you begin to withdraw socially, little by little, with no apparent triggering event present. You become uncharacteristically anxious, have difficulty making decisions and start to have trouble concentrating and paying attention. You could be entering schizophrenia prodrome.
Since these and similar symptoms occur in several other mental conditions, people may not recognize prodromal schizophrenia as such. Especially since onset of the illness most frequently occurs during the teen years or early twenties, people may take the symptoms as indicating attention deficit disorder or a similar mental condition. They may also just attribute the symptoms to "teenage behavior." (10 Early Warning Signs of Schizophrenia)
Significance of Schizophrenia Prodrome
Researchers and mental health professionals consider schizophrenia prodrome very important because, if recognized and treated early on, the person may not always continue on to develop full-blown schizophrenia.
Active and Residual Phases of Schizophrenia
The active and residual phases of schizophrenia represent the periods commonly associated with the mental disorder by others viewing the person. The active phase, also called the acute phase, is characterized by hallucinations, paranoid delusions, and extremely disorganized speech and behaviors. During this stage, patients appear obviously psychotic. If left untreated, active psychotic symptoms can continue for weeks or months. Symptoms may progress to the point where the patient must enter the hospital for acute care and treatment.
The residual stage of schizophrenia resembles schizophrenia prodrome. Obvious psychosis has subsided, but the patient may exhibit negative symptoms, such as social withdrawal, a lack of emotion, and uncharacteristically low energy levels. And, although frank psychotic behaviors and vocalizations have disappeared, the patient may continue to hold strange beliefs. For instance, when you’re in the residual phase of schizophrenia, you may still believe you have supernatural intelligence, but no longer think you can read people’s minds word-for-word.
Recovery and the Phases of Schizophrenia
It’s impossible to foretell who will recover from a psychotic episode and break free of schizophrenia. Some people experience only one full-blown period of psychosis, but most go on to have several distinct psychotic episodes. Further, while some recover completely, others will need mental health support and medication for the rest of their lives to avoid relapses.