Schizophrenia is characterized as a serious mental health disorder in which people interpret reality abnormally. The disorder involves a range of problems with thinking (cognition), behavior and emotions. For some, schizophrenia may result in a combination of hallucinations, delusions, extremely disordered thinking and behavior that impairs daily functioning, which can be disabling. Although, people with schizophrenia will require lifelong treatment, proper treatment can assist with the stabilization of symptoms.
Symptoms of schizophrenia can vary in type and severity over time, with periods of worsening and remission of symptoms. Unfortunately, some symptoms may always be present. Signs and symptoms of schizophrenia may vary from person to person; however, the disorder usually involves the following:
• Hallucinations and illusions
• Flat affect- lack of emotional expression
• Disordered thinking
• Disorganized speech
• Inappropriate reactions
• Lack of pleasure or interest in activities
• Impaired ability to function
Age & Gender
In men and women symptom emergence can appear at different ages. For example, in men, symptoms typically emerge in the early to mid-20’s. For women, symptoms typically emerge in the mid to late 20’s.
Symptoms of schizophrenia in teens
The symptoms of schizophrenia in teens are similar to the symptoms present in adults. However, for teens with symptoms of schizophrenia it is often difficult to recognize. Schizophrenia symptoms in teens is often difficult to recognize because of the time in which they occur. Schizophrenia is difficult to recognize in teens because of the developmental changes that are occurring during the teenage years. Some of the signs and symptoms of schizophrenia can mirror a lot of the developmental changes that one would expect from teens as they transition into adulthood.
Symptoms of schizophrenia that mirror developmental changes in teens years Include:
• Self-isolation (withdrawal from friends and family)
• Changes in eating and sleeping habits
• Changes in academic performance, decline
• Irritability, anxious, or depressed mood
• Trouble “reading” social cues in others
• Loss of interest in things once enjoyed
• Lack of motivation
• Awkward or unusual movements of the face or body
• Self-medicating behaviors, e.g., marijuana, alcohol, methamphetamines or LSD
• Visual hallucinations (less likely than adults to have delusions)
• Threatening behaviors
When a family member is diagnosed with schizophrenia, it can be difficult for members to understand how to care for or support that member. Many fail to understand that the treatment of schizophrenia is a life-long process. Others may erroneously believe the individual is “not trying hard enough to get better”, “should have better control over their behavior”, or they will be “cured” as long as they take the medication. People with schizophrenia benefit greatly from the support of friends and family, a team of mental health professionals, medication adherence, and attending a support group once symptom stabilization has been achieved. Without proper treatment, symptoms might become intense, leading to an escalation of odd behaviors. The escalation of odd or otherwise dysfunctional behaviors can isolate persons with schizophrenia from both family and friends.
Benefits of Family Support Include:
• Emotional support
• Financial support
• Advocacy for service
• Facilitation of treatment for mentally ill relatives
• Outside view of individual behaviors, medical compliance, etc.
Sometimes, the person suffering from schizophrenia can no longer live as independently as he or she did prior to onset of symptoms. Family members, charged with caring for the person, must adjust their personal and professional schedules while becoming educated about the disorder and learning to cope with its effects on family dynamics. Roles of family members can change or become blurred once a family member has been diagnosed with schizophrenia. Other relatives living in the same home with the mentally ill person, such as elderly parents or younger children, are thrust into unexpected levels of independence and responsibility. These rapidly changing roles and lifestyles can create turmoil in the family that can be difficult to overcome. Everyone that is close to the individual with schizophrenia must accept the reality of the illness and the challenges it creates in the individual sufferer and his or her family.
Things Family Members Can do to Support Members with Schizophrenia Include:
• Educate yourself, other family members and friends about the disorder
• Partner with the members mental health professionals to provide additional information about the individuals background, areas of concern, etc.
• Enforce medication compliance
• Engage in advocacy for services for loved one and others with schizophrenia
• Seek outside support, e.g., schizophrenia support groups and community support
• Helping the person with schizophrenia gain access to consistent and reliable psychiatric services.
• Aid crisis intervention
In addition, schizophrenics may suffer from extremes of alienation and subjectively punitive self-involvement. Families can help minimize the damage to self of the schizophrenic that this entails. Most importantly, families can make the schizophrenic feel loved, accepted and valued.