What is Schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia is a mental disorder. People with schizophrenia have problems thinking. They may have trouble understanding information and using it to make decisions. They may have other problems concentrating. They may seem to show less of their feelings. They may speak less than they did before they were ill.

A person with schizophrenia may also have trouble telling what is real and not real. A person with schizophrenia may hear, see or feel things that are not real, or have strange beliefs that do not make sense (psychosis). While psychosis may be a part of schizophrenia, psychosis can also occur in a number of other mental and physical illnesses (such as bipolar disorder, depression, or a brain injury). To learn more about psychosis, click here.

Schizophrenia runs in families. Scientists think that several different genes have to come together for a person to have schizophrenia. Other things that happen before and after the person is born make it more likely that a person will get schizophrenia. 

How do I know if it is Schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia usually shows up when a child is between the ages of 16-25. Some children have it at a younger age. Children with schizophrenia may be slower to develop, be withdrawn or show odd behaviour. Many of the early symptoms are similar to other problems or mental disorders, so it's best to ask for help from a doctor to know what is going on.

Take your child to a doctor if they:

  • Are slower to develop compared with siblings or children their own age
  • Have stopped bathing or dressing themselves
  • Are spending a lot of time alone
  • Begin having problems keeping up at school
  • Start acting oddly around eating
  • Seem very suspicious of others
  • Have feelings that seem off – that don't fit what is going on
  • Have strange ideas or fears
  • Are aggressive or agitated

These signs do not mean your child has schizophrenia, but they may mean that your child needs some help. 

Signs and Symptoms

A young person with schizophrenia might begin to:

  • Hear or see things that are not there
  • Have strange beliefs they cannot be talked out of
  • Become very suspicious
  • Act very differently than they did before
  • Seem to not be feeling anything
  • Seem confused

These are signs that the brain is having problems, and needs help, but may not mean your child has schizophrenia. 

How common is it?

In general, about one in every one hundred people has schizophrenia. Because schizophrenia runs in families, if your child has a parent, brother, or sister with schizophrenia this chance will be a little higher. 

What can be done?

There are treatments for schizophrenia that work. Getting help as early as possible is important. A child who might have schizophrenia should be checked out by a doctor or psychiatrist.  Most areas in BC have Early Psychosis Intervention (EPI) programs to help young people who have psychosis (which is a part of schizophrenia). EPI programs are a very good place to start if you think your child might have schizophrenia. 

Treatment and  strategies

Medication is very important in treating schizophrenia. Everyone's brain is a bit different, and it may take awhile for doctors to find the right medication to help your child. Your child may need to be in hospital for a while to help with this. 

Self–management strategies (including tips for parents)

Some other things that can help, along with medication:

  • Learning about schizophrenia
  • Trying to keep stress low
  • Providing support. Having a serious illness can be hard and lonely. It helps to have caring people to talk to about it.
  • Keeping noise and confusion low at home
  • Speaking in short simple sentences
  • Being patient and positive with your child
  • Helping your child to be active and eat well. Fish and other foods that have omega 3 fatty acids are good for your child to eat. Taking fish oil capsules or vitamin D can also be a good idea.

Where to from here? 

  • If you think your child may have schizophrenia, call an early psychosis intervention (EPI) program. There is a list of all the programs in BC at the BC Early Psychosis Intervention Program website. EPI programs are made for young people, and help them get quick access to treatment services.
  • If there is no early psychosis intervention program in your area, then call 811 to ask for the number of your local mental health team. They can also help you.

Below you will find some key resources. A full list of resources are on the right hand side bar. 

Early Psychosis Intervention
The Early Psychosis Intervention (EPI) Program website promotes early detection, educates about psychosis and provides direction for seeking help. This website also has toolkits and information sheets in multiple languages.

Early Psychosis: How Friends and Family Can Help
The BC Schizophrenia Society's early psychosis recovery guide for family and friends.

If Your Brother or Sister has Schizophrenia (Youth Version)
The BC Schizophrenia Society's guide for siblings of those living with schizophrenia.

Reaching Out: A School Resource Video
The British Columbia Schizophrenia Society's educational video on what schizophrenia is and how to get help.

BC Children's Hospital

This is an agency of Provincial Health Services Authority, providing provincial tertiary mental health services to the citizens of British Columbia. Programs include: Adult Tertiary Psychiatry, Geriatric Psychiatry, Forensic Psychiatric Services, Child & Adolescent Mental Health, Women’s Reproductive Mental Health, as well as the Provincial Specialized Eating Disorders Program for children and youth located at the BC Children’s Hospital.

Provincial Health Services Authority

Provincial Health Services Authority (PHSA) is one of six health authorities – the other five health authorities serve geographic regions of BC.

Ministry of Health

British Columbia Ministry of Health

RBC Children's Mental Health Project

RBC Children’s Mental Health Project is RBC's cornerstone “health and wellness” pillar; RBC Children’s Mental Heath Project is a multi-year philanthropic commitment to support community-based and hospital programs that reduce stigma, provide early intervention and increase public awareness about children’s mental health issues.

BC Children's Hospital Foundation

Through a wide range of fundraising events and opportunities, The BC Children's Hospital Foundation is united with its donors by a single, simple passion - to improve the health and the lives of the young people who enter BC Children's Hospital every day.