What is it?
Schizophrenia is a mental illness that has symptoms which generally begin to show up in adolescence through until early adulthood. However, some people will develop symptoms earlier and others will develop them later. Just as other diseases have signs or symptoms, so does schizophrenia. Symptoms are not identical for everyone. Some people will have only one episode of schizophrenia in their life. Others have recurring episodes, but can lead relatively normal lives in between. Others may have severe symptoms for a lifetime. Many people with schizophrenia live within their community.
“People with schizophrenia need understanding, patience and reassurance that they will not be abandoned.”
Schizophrenia affects how a person understands and perceives the world around them. It affects a person’s ability to think clearly and rationally and may cause a person to have trouble understanding information and making decisions. Sometimes, it interferes with a person’s concentration. People with schizophrenia may show less feelings and may seem to speak less than they did before they were ill.
People with schizophrenia experience psychosis, which causes them to have trouble distinguishing between what is real and not real. Psychosis includes hallucinations, when a person hears, sees or feels things that are not real, and delusions, when a person has strange beliefs that do not make sense. A person may also have confused thinking or speech causing them to say things that do not make sense to others. While psychosis can 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). Learn more about psychosis here.
There is no one single cause of schizophrenia. Schizophrenia runs in families and 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, like using cannabis, can make it more likely that a person with an existing predisposition towards schizophrenia will develop it.
How do I know?
Schizophrenia usually shows up when a child is between the ages of 16-25. Some children have it at a younger age. Sometimes symptoms of schizophrenia can develop when a person is in their 40s. Children with schizophrenia may be slower to develop, be withdrawn or show odd behaviour. Many of these 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 necessarily mean your child has schizophrenia, but it may mean that your child needs some help.
Signs and Symptoms
A person with schizophrenia may begin to:
- hear or see things that are not there
- have strange or false beliefs they cannot be talked out of
- become very suspicious
- act very differently than they did before
- seem to not be feeling anything emotionally
- seem confused
- have difficulties with concentration, focus, memory, reasoning, judgement, and problem solving
- jump from topic to topic
- have difficulty making simple decisions
- become hypersensitive to sounds, tastes, and smell
- have dulled physical sensations
These are signs that the brain is having problems, and needs help, but may not mean your child has schizophrenia.
Schizophrenia is caused by an imbalance of brain chemistry. However, the direct causes of this imbalance is still unknown. Research has shown that schizophrenia runs in families, if your child has a parent, brother or sister with schizophrenia the chance of your child developing schizophrenia will be a higher.
What can be done?
If you suspect that your child might have schizophrenia, talk to a doctor or psychiatrist right away. Getting help as early as possible is important. Studies have shown that the earlier schizophrenia is diagnosed and symptoms managed, the more likely the person with schizophrenia will be able to manage their illness and the better their future outcomes. Most areas in BC have Early Psychosis Intervention (EPI) programs to help young people who have psychosis (which is a symptom 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 the hospital for a while to help with this. Early intervention and diagnosis leads to the potential to find treatments that work earlier, resulting in a better likelihood of the person with schizophrenia being able to manage their symptoms and develop strategies for school, work and life.
An imbalance in brain chemistry causes symptoms of schizophrenia, therefore medication is key in schizophrenia treatments. Other treatments work best in conjunction with the use of medication.
Self–management strategies (including tips for parents)
- learning about schizophrenia
- trying to keep stress low
- keeping noise and confusion low at home
- speaking in short simple sentences
- being patient and positive with your child
- exploring additional treatment options that work in conjunction with medication to address other types of symptoms
- Providing and getting support. Having a serious illness can be hard and lonely. It helps to have caring people or others who have gone through the same thing to talk to about it.
- 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.
- B.C. Schizophrenia Society offers support groups and resources for families affected by schizophrenia. Visit their website or call 1-888-888-0029 to speak to a Regional Educator near you.