Using the DSM-IV-TR criteria previously listed makes identification of the disorder relatively clear-cut. However, an unusual aspect to this diagnosis is the emphasis on the length of time that symptoms have been evident. Most mental health disorder diagnoses do not include the duration of the symptoms as part of their definitions. However, the length of time the person has had psychotic symptoms is one of the major distinctions among three different psychotic disorders. Brief psychotic disorder involves the shortest duration of suffering psychotic symptoms: one day to one month. Schizophreniform disorder also involves the individual showing signs of psychosis, but for a longer period (one month or more, but less than six months). Schizophrenia is diagnosed in individuals who have evidenced psychotic symptoms that are not associated with physical disease, mood disorder or intoxication, for six months or longer. Another complicating factor in making the diagnosis is the context in which the "psychotic symptoms" are experienced. If the psychotic-like behaviors evidenced are acceptable in the person's culture or religion and these behaviors happen in a traditionally expected context such as a religious service or meditation, then brief psychotic disorder would not be diagnosed.

The disorder is usually diagnosed by obtaining information in interview from the client and possibly from immediate family. Also, the diagnostician would be likely to perform a semi-structured interview called a mental status examination, which examines the person's ability to concentrate, to remember, to realistically understand the situation, and to think logically.

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