What’s the Typical Age of Onset for Schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia is a mental health condition that affects about one percent of the US population. That means approximately 3.3 million people nationwide currently live with the condition. It typically starts in late adolescence or early adulthood.

“Schizophrenia is a psychosis,” explained Colorado Recovery founder Richard Warner, MD, in his book The Environment of Schizophrenia (2000). “That is to say, it is a severe mental disorder in which the person’s emotions, thinking, judgment, and grasp of reality are so disturbed that his or her functioning is seriously impaired.”

Schizophrenia can have very different symptoms in different people. They are frequently categorized as positive or negative. “Positive symptoms are abnormal experiences and perceptions like delusions, hallucinations, illogical and disorganized thinking, and inappropriate behavior,” wrote Dr. Warner in The Environment of Schizophrenia. “Negative symptoms are the absence of normal thoughts, emotions, and behavior; such as blunted emotions, loss of drive, poverty of thought, and social withdrawal.”

The onset of schizophrenia usually occurs between the ages of 16 and 30.

“Onset of schizophrenia before the age of 14 is rare, but when it does begin this early it is associated with a severe course of illness. Onset after the age of 40 is also rare, and is associated with a milder course,” wrote Dr. Warner.

Schizophrenia researchers have long been puzzled about why the illness normally begins in adolescence when important risk factors, such as genetic loading and neonatal brain damage, are present from birth or sooner. Some experts suspect that the natural and adaptive process of synaptic elimination in the brain during childhood—if excessive—could be a factor in the development of schizophrenia.  

“We now know that, for people with schizophrenia, this normally useful process of synaptic pruning has been carried too far, leaving fewer synapses in the frontal lobes and medial temporal cortex,” Warner wrote. “In consequence, there are deficits in the interaction between these two areas of the brain in schizophrenia which reduce the adequacy of working memory.”

There is wide variation in the course of schizophrenia as well. 

“In some cases the onset of illness is gradual, extending over the course of months or years; in others, it can begin suddenly, within hours or days. Some people have episodes of illness lasting weeks or months with full remission of symptoms between each episode; others have a fluctuating course in which symptoms are continuous; others again have very little variation in their symptoms of illness over the course of years. The final outcome from the illness in late life can be complete recovery, a mild level of disturbance, or continued severe illness.”

Left untreated, schizophrenia may result in severe problems affecting every area of life. Complications associated with schizophrenia include:

  • Suicide attempts and thoughts of suicide
  • Anxiety disorders and obsessive-compulsive disorder 
  • Depression
  • Misuse of alcohol or other substances
  • Financial problems and homelessness
  • Social isolation
  • Health and medical problems

Doctors cannot cure schizophrenia, but it is possible to live well if you have this mental illness. “People with schizophrenia can be treated effectively in a variety of settings,” wrote Dr. Warner. 

The treatment philosophy at Colorado Recovery includes a warmer and more human familial setting; comprehensive levels of care that result in a path of self-reliance; expert staff to better diagnose and treat clients; and community engagement for connection and a feeling of achievement. 

Since Dr. Warner’s passing in 2015, Colorado Recovery has continued to innovate its treatment approach based on these core principles. The Warner model has delivered exceptional outcomes through its signature continuum of care and helped create lives of purpose as clients practice new tools in the management of their mental health disorder.

Our treatment facility provides the services needed to address schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and other serious mental illnesses which are specific to each individual. Call us at 720-218-4068 to discuss treatment options for you or the person you would like to help.