Schizophrenia is an often-misunderstood illness. Even those who have it do not totally understand the nature of their condition, so it can be a confusing, terrifying experience. Add to that the normal stress of teenage life, and you have captured the essence of teenage schizophrenia: a world of fear, confusion and helplessness where no one else can join you a world of your own.
The disorder is physically, emotionally and mentally draining for the families of those afflicted. Schizophrenic teens often have difficulty functioning normally in society and may need financial assistance, emotional support and daily help for tasks such as taking medication.
As the symptoms ...view middle of the document...
Although males and females are equally affected by schizophrenia, symptoms of the condition most normally appear earlier in males. In some instances the signs and symptoms of schizophrenia will appear before the age of 12 or 13, but these cases are rare.
"The typical age of onset for schizophrenia is in the late teens or early adulthood," says Russell Scheffer, a clinical psychologist at Southwestern University Medical Center in Dallas, Texas. "The onset of clear psychosis is typically in the teens or early adult years. It can occur before the onset of puberty. Prior to the onset of clear-cut psychosis there is often a period of decline in functioning in social situations and school. These negative symptoms, including social withdrawal, are often the most difficult symptoms to treat."
What Is Schizophrenia?
According to the National Alliance for Research on Schizophrenia and Depression (NARSAD), schizophrenia is a "serious brain disorder that makes it difficult for a person to tell the difference between real and unreal experiences, to think logically, to have normal emotional responses to others and to behave normally in social situations and may also have difficulty in remembering, talking and behaving appropriately."
Schizophrenia is not a condition of "split personality," depression, laziness, the influence of inappropriate upbringing or insufficient or uncaring parents. Schizophrenia, like any other disease or illness, has signs, symptoms and means for diagnosis and treatment.
Its cause, however, is still unknown. "There are a variety of theories about the cause of schizophrenia," Scheffer says. "These include a neurodevelopmental model that states that brain abnormalities are present at birth and become expressed at a later date due to maturational or environmental factors. A second hypothesis states that a person would have an underlying genetic vulnerability but would require an environmental stressor such as birth trauma, psychological stressors or head trauma to fully express the illness. There are many other theories about the cause of schizophrenia, and many of these focus on (the brain chemicals) dopamine, serotonin and glutamate."
Teens who have a family member with schizophrenia are 30 percent more likely to develop the disorder themselves, NARSAD reports. If both parents have the disorder or a history of the disorder, the teen is then 40 percent more likely to develop schizophrenia.
"My brother struggled with what took us years to diagnose paranoid schizophrenia," says Tammie McElligott of Berrien Springs, Mich. "Before becoming ill, he was a friendly boy who loved to play, laugh and be with people. As the illness began to show itself, he seldom joined the rest of the family."
During her brother's junior high years, teachers reported that the boy seemed distracted. By...