Schizophrenia is one of the most complex of all mental health disorders. It is a severe, chronic, and disabling disturbance of the brain that causes distorted thinking, strange feelings, and unusual behavior and use of language and words.
There is no known single cause responsible for schizophrenia. It is believed that a chemical imbalance in the brain is an inherited factor which is necessary for schizophrenia to develop. However, it is likely that many factors--genetic, behavioral, and environmental--play a role in the development of this condition.
Schizophrenia is considered to be multifactorially inherited. Multifactorial inheritance means that "many factors" are involved. The factors are usually both genetic and environmental, where a combination of genes from both parents, in addition to unknown environmental factors, produce the trait or condition. Often, one gender (either males or females) is affected more frequently than the other in multifactorial traits. There appears to be a different threshold of expression, which means that one gender is more likely to show the problem, over the other gender. Slightly more males develop schizophrenia in childhood; however, by adolescence, schizophrenia affects males and females equally.
Schizophrenia is uncommon in children under the age of 12 and hard to identify in the early phases. A sudden onset of the psychotic symptoms of schizophrenia frequently occurs in middle to late adolescence. Statistics indicate that schizophrenia affects approximately 2.7 million Americans. A child born into a family with one or more family members affected by schizophrenia has a greater chance of developing schizophrenia than a child born into a family with no history of schizophrenia.
After a person has been diagnosed with schizophrenia in a family, the chance for a sibling to also be diagnosed with schizophrenia is 7 to 8 percent. If a parent has schizophrenia, the chance for a child to have the disorder is 10 percent. Risks increase with multiple affected family members.
In children with schizophrenia, behavior changes may occur slowly, over time, or have a sudden onset. The child may gradually become more shy and withdrawn. They may begin to talk about bizarre ideas or fears and begin to cling more to parents. One of the most disturbing and puzzling characteristics of schizophrenia is the sudden onset of its psychotic symptoms. "Psychotic" refers to ideas, perceptions, or feelings that are grossly distorted from reality. The following are the most common symptoms of schizophrenia. However, each child may experience symptoms differently.
Early warning signs of schizophrenia in children may include:
The symptoms of schizophrenia are often classified as positive (symptoms including delusions, hallucinations, and bizarre behavior), negative (symptoms including flat affect, withdrawal, and emotional unresponsiveness), disorganized speech (including speech that is incomprehensible), and disorganized or catatonic behavior (including marked mood swings, sudden aggression, or confusion, followed by sudden motionlessness and staring). The symptoms of schizophrenia in children are similar to adults, however, children, more often (in 80 percent of diagnosed cases), experience auditory hallucinations and typically do not experience delusions or formal thought disorders until mid-adolescence or older. The symptoms of schizophrenia may resemble other problems or psychiatric conditions. Always consult your child's health care provider for a diagnosis.
Schizophrenia in children and adolescents is usually diagnosed by a child and adolescent psychiatrist. Other mental health professionals usually participate in the completion of a comprehensive mental health evaluation to determine individualized treatment needs.
Specific treatment for schizophrenia will be determined by your child's health care provider based on:
Schizophrenia is a major psychiatric illness. Treatment for schizophrenia is complex. A combination of therapies is often necessary to meet the individualized needs of the child or adolescent with schizophrenia. Treatment is aimed at reducing the symptoms associated with the disorder. Types of treatment that may be helpful to a child or adolescent with schizophrenia may include:
Preventive measures to reduce the incidence of schizophrenia are not known at this time. However, identification and early intervention can improve the quality of life experienced by children and adolescents with schizophrenia. Further, treatment is most successful when symptoms of the first psychotic episode are addressed properly and promptly. It is crucial for a child or teen who is prescribed medications for the treatment of schizophrenia to remain adherent to the regimen. Dosages and types of medications may need to be adjusted periodically to maintain effectiveness. Always consult your child's health care provider for more information.
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