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When Does Schizophrenia Show Up in Women?

by Kristina Randle, Ph.D., LCSW

Both of my parents are mentally ill, my mother suffering from Schizophrenia and my father from Manic Depression. Both of my parents had regular auditory hallucinations and paranoia.

At 21, I’ve yet to suffer from any of their symptoms, but have been struggling with PTSD and related anxiety. Since I was aware enough to know my parents were ill, I’ve constantly monitored myself to make sure I wasn’t sick like they were.

From reading on this site and others, it appears that Schizophrenia shows up in women later than men. Could someone please talk about this more? Since I’m a 21 year old woman, I’d like to know if it’s possible for me to still develop Schizophrenia (though I show no signs of it now and haven’t in the past). I also just want to know at what age can I finally relax and know I’m past the threshold.

You are correct. Schizophrenia does tend to occur later in women than in males. The average age range for a female to develop schizophrenia is roughly ages 25-29 (18-21 in males). The reasons for the age difference between genders are not well understood.

Not every male or female who ultimately develops schizophrenia does so within the above-mentioned age range averages. Males can develop schizophrenia later than late- adolescence and females may get it sooner than their late twenties.

But you must know that just because both of your parents had a mental illness in no way means that you will be mentally ill. One does not necessarily lead to the other. It is true that people whose parents have a mental illness are at a greater risk for the development of a mental illness. Heredity does seem to play a role but there are many more factors that contribute to the development of a psychiatric illness.

The environment an individual grows up in can affect whether or a not a disorder develops. The majority of people with schizophrenia, for instance, report childhood physical, sexual or mental abuse. This is not to say that all people who are abused go on to develop schizophrenia. This is clearly not the case. But in some instances, the abuse could have possibly contributed to the development of the disease. Maybe if these individuals had never been exposed to abuse they may not have developed schizophrenia.

Drug use can also play a role in the development of schizophrenia. Drug use is commonly associated with schizophrenia, as well as bipolar disorder. I am familiar with a case in which a “normal” young adult male spent his weekend using LSD. By the end of the weekend, his LSD “high” never wore off. He never returned to his “normal” state of mind and subsequently suffered many psychotic breaks and was later diagnosed with schizophrenia. No one can be sure that his drug use definitely led to schizophrenia but it is a distinct possibility.

You are not doomed to develop the disease just because your parents did. You mentioned you have some other psychiatric issues, such anxiety and PTSD but neither of these are signs of schizophrenia. You also mentioned you have no other symptoms that would lead you to believe that you have the disorder. Please know that realistically, your chances of developing schizophrenia are very slim.

It’s unhealthy for you to constantly worry about this issue. By constantly focusing on this fear, you are keeping it alive and helping it to grow. If you do continually worry about this, it would be helpful for you to contact a therapist. You may feel better if you had someone you can discuss these fears with. A therapist can also help you with your anxiety issues as well as the PTSD. I hope this helps.

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