Schizophrenia is a serious mental illness. People with this illness have disturbed and disorganized thinking, language, and behavior. They may see, hear, or feel things that aren't really there. Sometimes the speech of a person with schizophrenia makes no sense. This disorder usually causes serious problems in day-to-day living.
There are many theories about the cause of this disorder. If a child has one parent who is schizophrenic, then the chances of the child developing it are 10 times that of other children. This is true even if the child grows up away from the schizophrenic parent. Schizophrenia is not caused by poor parenting, child abuse, or neglect. However, very poor parenting, chaos, and high stress in a child's life may make the symptoms come sooner and be more severe.
Schizophrenic-like symptoms can be produced by substance abuse. The use of LSD or large amounts of cocaine or amphetamines can produce symptoms that look like schizophrenia for several hours after taking the drugs.
It is very rare for this disorder to start before age 12. It usually begins slowly in the early adult years, usually after the age of 19. Girls and young women often develop symptoms a few years later than boys and young men. Symptoms usually increase over 3 to 5 years. Sometimes schizophrenia begins suddenly over a few weeks.
Two or more of the following symptoms are present for at least a month:
Your child's healthcare provider will ask about your child's symptoms. Other diseases can cause many of the symptoms. The provider will make sure that a medical problem or drugs such as LSD, amphetamines, or cocaine, are not causing the symptoms.
A mental health professional should make the final diagnosis. The diagnosis is made based on a thorough psychiatric interview of the child and family members. As yet, there are no medical tests for schizophrenia.
Medicines are the most important part of the treatment. Unfortunately, many of the medicines have not been researched with preteen children and have only limited research with teenagers. The medicines need to be taken continuously for a few weeks to reach their full benefit. The medicines will usually need to be taken long-term to keep symptoms from coming back.
Schizophrenia changes the way your child relates to others. It also changes the way your child thinks. A therapist or case manager can help your child cope with this illness. It can be helpful for family members to be involved in psychotherapy to help cope with your child's disorder.
This is almost always a lifelong disorder. With medicine and good social support, however, most schizophrenics can lead productive lives. Often the symptoms decrease in middle age.
If your child or teen acts aggressive or self-injures, get professional help immediately. Almost all towns and cities have mental health crisis telephone numbers.
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