teen suffering from schizophrenia

Understanding Schizophrenia in Teens

Although a person can develop schizophrenia at any point in life, the symptoms are most likely to start between the ages of 12 and 40. More specifically, males tend to see start seeing symptoms in their teen years and early 20s, while females are most likely to develop symptoms in their 20s and 30s.

Sadly, less than 20 percent of people who experience psychosis (including schizophrenia) say that their parents noticed the symptoms and intervened on their behalf. Parents can help increase this number by learning to recognize what schizophrenia looks like in teens and what they can do to help. With adequate treatment, families can learn to manage symptoms and healing can begin.

What is Schizophrenia and Who Develops It?

Schizophrenia is a mental health disorder in which people have a difficult time determining what is real and what is not. While treatments can help people with the disorder manage their symptoms and live full lives, there is no cure for schizophrenia and it lasts a lifetime.

There is no single cause of schizophrenia, and anyone can develop it. However, people with certain risk factors are more likely to develop schizophrenia than their peers, including:

  • Having a biological relative with schizophrenia
  • Taking psychoactive or psychotropic substances in the adolescence and young adulthood
  • Having a father who was significantly older than most at the time of conception
  • Certain complications in the mother during pregnancy
  • Having autoimmune disorders or other problems with an overactive immune system

All parents should know the signs of schizophrenia in teens, but especially the parents of teens with these risk factors.

Symptoms of Schizophrenia in Teens

Many teenagers who eventually develop full-blown schizophrenia first go through what’s known as the “prodromal” period. During this time, the teen may exhibit symptoms such as:

  • Changing their friend group
  • A steep drop in grades
  • Trouble falling or staying asleep
  • Sleeping too much
  • Irritable
  • Depressed mood
  • Social withdrawal
  • Steady increase in unusual thoughts

While these are the warning signs of schizophrenia, they are nonspecific. That means these signs could be symptoms of another disorder, such as depression. It could also be a normal part of teenage development. That’s why it’s important to seek professional guidance in some cases.

Without intervention, the prodromal stage can turn into full-on schizophrenia. The symptoms of this disorder include:

  • Hallucinations
  • Delusions
  • Depression
  • Social isolation
  • Little or no personal hygiene
  • Strange physical movements
  • Disorganized speech and thoughts

Teenagers are less likely to have delusions than adults with schizophrenia. However, teens with schizophrenia are more likely to hallucinate images.

What Parents Can Do

If you notice any symptoms of schizophrenia in a teenager in your life, you should seek help. Most importantly, if the teen has thoughts of suicide or is a danger to others, call 911 or take the teen to the nearest emergency room. Remember that having symptoms of schizophrenia does not make someone dangerous to others by itself. People with the disorder are more likely to be victims of violent crimes than to commit them.

Even if you teen does not have any suicidal or dangerous thoughts, you can seek help. While schizophrenia is complicated and difficult to treat, several options exist, including:

  • Antipsychotic medication
  • Individual therapy
  • Family therapy, in which parents learn more about the disorder and how to help
  • Support groups
  • Social skills classes

In some cases, teens may need residential treatment in order to get stable enough for outpatient options. In residential treatment, they live in the treatment center and receive round-the-clock care.

While it can be difficult to get your teen into treatment, it is the best option. Schizophrenia can have several mental, emotional, financial, and social effects when left untreated.

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