Schizophrenia is a medical illness that affects people from all races, genders and income levels. This disorder makes it hard for a person to tell the difference between the real world and unreal experiences. It also makes it hard for a person to think and act normally. Schizophrenia is not a split personality. It is not caused by growing up in a dysfunctional family nor is it caused by laziness or having a weak moral character. It has a physical cause just like diabetes or heart disease.
Schizophrenia is a common mental illness. Some estimates say that 1% of the population is affected by schizophrenia. The first symptoms usually appear between the ages of 15 and 25, but occasionally, symptoms appear before the age of 12. The behavior of a child with schizophrenia will be different than the behavior of an adult with schizophrenia. If your psychiatrist suspects your child has schizophrenia, he or she will look for the following early warning signs:
- Seeing things or hearing things that are not real;
- Confused thinking;
- Problems with telling dreams from reality; confusing television, movies or video games with reality;
- Extreme mood swings;
- Odd behavior;
- Paranoia, or the belief that others are deliberately trying to hurt them;
- Anxiety and fearfulness;
Adult onset schizophrenia usually comes on fairly suddenly. Children with the disorder, on the other hand, will show slow, gradual changes in their behavior. Many parents also report that their child with schizophrenia showed signs of being "different" from a very early age.
Medication is the main treatment for schizophrenia. There are many new medications that treat schizophrenia. If the first medication does not help the symptoms, ask your doctor to try another medication. Also, it may take time to adjust the dosage, so be patient. Family therapy and one-to one therapy can also help the family cope with the changes that their family is experiencing as the result of their child’s disorder. Structured education programs can help your child with his daily functioning and he may be eligible for special education services.
Tips For Parents
- When a child first begins experiencing symptoms of a psychotic disorder, it can be frightening for the family. Learning all you can about the disorder can help ease some of your fears.
- It is critical you work with your child’s psychiatrist to get the medication adjusted. While one to one or family therapy can help the family adjust to the consequences of the illness, the best treatment is medication. Many families let their child stop the medication when he starts to improve, only to find he becomes ill again fairly quickly. Finding the right combination and dosage takes time. Also, as your child develops, he may need to change medications or dosages.
- For many people, psychotic disorders are made worse by stress. Once your child is stabilized on medication, work with your child and your mental health professional to learn stress management techniques.
- Learn to recognize the signs of relapse, such as strange behavior, withdrawal or aggression. Work with your mental health professional to find ways to deal with the relapse before it becomes a crisis.