Schizophrenia in teens: spotting signs and managing symptoms

One of the most frightening things for families to face is news of a diagnosed mental health condition in one of their children. Even harder still is knowing something is not right, but struggling to uncover what is really going on.

Teenagers go through a variety of physical and emotional changes almost daily over the course of several years. Parents and other caring adults might dismiss normal moodiness as part of the growing pains associated with being a teenager, but what happens when this moodiness doesn't level off? What should parents do when the signs and symptoms increase in intensity and continue on for months?

Affecting more than 21 million people worldwide, schizophrenia is a very serious and debilitating mental illness that can be difficult to diagnose in teenagers and young adults. So often, the symptoms that qualify a diagnosis can easily be mistaken as developmentally appropriate for the age or diagnosed as other mental health conditions.

Schizophrenia is a psychotic disorder that often begins in late adolescence or early adulthood, that affects how a person perceives the world, thinks, and behaves and causes the individual to have difficulty distinguishing what is real from what is not. It causes disordered ideas, beliefs and experiences. People are said to "lose touch" with reality and have difficulty knowing which thoughts and experiences are true and real and which ones are not.

Symptoms include hearing, seeing, smelling or tasting things that are not real (hallucinations); false ideas (delusions); disordered thoughts and problems with feelings, behaviour and motivation. Teens with schizophrenia often become withdrawn and suspicious, and may even become hostile to those closest to them.


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