Psychiatric Care for Children with Schizophrenia
Schizophrenia is a chronic, potentially severe mental health disorder that can affect how an individual thinks, feels, and behaves. A person with schizophrenia, to the casual observer, may seem like they have lost touch with reality. Although this disorder is not as common or well-known to the public as other mental illnesses, the symptoms can be very disabling. Generally, schizophrenia manifests between the ages of 16 and 30 years; however, younger children can manifest signs of schizophrenia, though it is very rare.
What are some common signs and symptoms of Schizophrenia?
The symptoms that manifest with the onset of schizophrenia usually begin to appear in late adolescence. There are three recognized categories of symptoms for a person with schizophrenia: positive, negative, and cognitive.
Positive symptoms are the “classic” psychotic behaviors that are so well-known to the average person from films and television. People with positive symptoms may begin to “lose touch” with reality, or be unable to determine what is real and what is not. These symptoms can include
- Thought disorders, including unusual or dysfunctional ways of thinking
- Movement disorders, which can include agitated or uncontrolled body movements
Negative symptoms are harder for the untrained person to detect, even in someone they know well. These stem from disruptions to normal emotions and behaviors. Negative symptoms can include
- “Flat affect,” which means reduced expression of emotions through facial expressions or tone of voice
- Reduced feelings of pleasure and joy in everyday life
- Difficulty with beginning or sustaining activities
- Reduced speaking and communication
Cognitive symptoms can vary in severity from person to person. These have to do with the actual cognitive, thinking, and memory processes of the brain. Cognitive symptoms can include
- Poor “executive function”, which can affect the ability to understand information and use that information to make decisions
- Trouble focusing and paying attention
- Problems with “working memory”, which is the ability to utilize information immediately after learning it.
How is it determined that someone has Schizophrenia?
Unfortunately, there is still no consensus on what causes schizophrenia. Theories range from changes in genetics caused by any number of environmental factors to a chemical imbalance of neurological substances in the brain that control mood and cognition. While there is no “test” for schizophrenia, trained psychiatric health professionals are able to evaluate a patient or client for the symptoms of the disorder. Generally, if all other potential causes of any positive, negative, and cognitive symptoms can be ruled out, then the cause may be schizophrenic in origin. To that end, many other possible diagnoses are examined and ruled out, rather than labeling someone schizophrenic from the start.
Many environmental factors can cause symptoms that seem to mimic a schizophrenic disorder. Too much alcohol or using drugs can induce hallucinations and delusions. Sleep deprivation can also produce feelings of depression and anxiety, as well as visual and auditory hallucinations. Overwork and stress can cause problems with making decisions and focusing on a task. But, if none of these more common situations seems to fit the case, the doctor may then entertain the possibility of a diagnosis of schizophrenia.
How is Schizophrenia being handled or treated in today’s society?
Treatments for schizophrenia, at this time, are only able to treat the symptoms of the disorder: that is, the positive, negative, and cognitive impairments and changes that come from the disorder. One of the most effective, and nearly essential, components of a successful treatment regimen for schizophrenia is the use, under a doctor’s supervision, of prescription antipsychotic medications. These drugs work to control the chemical imbalances that cause hallucinations and other positive symptoms; however, for most patients, antipsychotic medications are not enough on their own to treat the full range of impact the disorder has on their life.
Psychosocial treatments are another major component that has worked for many patients. This treatment style focuses on helping the individual to develop coping skills to deal with their symptoms, so that they can pursue their life goals, including attending school, gaining employment, and having a family. Coordinated specialty care is a term used to describe the integrated approach of medication and psychosocial therapies, as well as case management, familial involvement, and supported education and employment services. This approach has been most effective at helping individuals with schizophrenia to continue to have the life they want with as few symptoms and alterations to their life as possible. The National Institute of Mental Health has a specific project which conducts research and study into how individuals cope with their schizophrenic disorders. The project is called RAISE (Recovery After an Initial Schizophrenia Episode), and more information can be found here.
Many people want to know what they can do to help a loved one who has been diagnosed with schizophrenia. It can be very hard to know how to respond to a friend or family member who often makes strange, or clearly false and untrue, statements. One of the most important things to remember is that schizophrenia is a biological illness, just like diabetes, asthma, or cancer. Some of the most important things you can do for your loved one is to
- Get them treatment, and encourage them to remain in treatment.
- Remember that their beliefs, hallucinations, and experiences seem very, very real to them.
- Tell them, often, that you know everyone has the right to see things in their own way.
- Be respectful, supportive, and above all kind, without tolerating dangerous or inappropriate behavioral choices.
- Check for support groups in your area, or online. Sometimes, the best help is found by speaking to others living with or caring for someone with schizophrenia. There is strength in numbers, and much more so in friendship.
Get more information on Schizophrenia.
Prime Behavioral Health employs trained and certified mental health professionals, with a background in helping individuals and families live with mental illness, including schizophrenia. If you think you or a loved one may be experiencing a schizophrenic episode, or other mental health symptoms, please do not hesitate to call us today, or fill out one of our online contact forms. We are here to help.