In the United Kingdom, Schizophrenia affects one in every 100 people but rarely affects children younger than 15 years of age. Though it is rare, there are some children who suffer from Schizophrenia and unfortunately it is difficult to determine what the long term affects of this mental illness will be for these children. The earlier Schizophrenia is recognised or even suspected in a child, the better the chance of effective treatments being established, so parents who suspect that their child might be suffering from Schizophrenia should seek professional help immediately.
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Signs and Symptoms of Schizophrenia
The signs and symptoms of schizophrenia often fall into two groups: positive symptoms and negative symptoms. Children who suffer from Schizophrenia often experience both types. Positive symptoms include delusions (untrue beliefs), thought disorder (an inability to think “straight”) and hallucinations (the experience of a sight/sound/smell that isn’t actually there to be experienced). Negative symptoms include apathy and social withdrawal which may manifest in behaviours such as losing interest in activities that the child previously enjoyed, a lack of concern with personal hygiene and a lack of enthusiasm or concentration for tasks such as chores or schoolwork. Again, not all children with Schizophrenia will experience all symptoms but an observable mix of positive and negative symptoms is likely.
Diagnosis of Schizophrenia
Schizophrenia can only be diagnosed in children by a qualified child mental health expert. This will usually be a child psychiatrist. Child Onset Schizophrenia, sometimes also called Early Onset Schizophrenia, is diagnosed similarly to adult Schizophrenia. Two of the symptoms described above must be observed for a diagnosis, they must have been present for at least six months, and they must interfere with daily life. Unfortunately Schizophrenia is very difficult to diagnose in children, so mis-diagnoses such as for depression and Bipolar Disorder are common.
Treatment of Schizophrenia
Medication is the main method of treatment for Schizophrenia. The medications prescribed for Schizophrenia are categorised as anti-psychotics or neuroleptics. Unfortunately, these medications often have severe side effects, including significant weight gain. Many children living with Schizophrenia often have associated symptoms which need to be treated separately as well. Family therapy and changes to a child’s educational arrangements are often also suggested for children suffering from Schizophrenia.
Living with Schizophrenia
Children living with Schizophrenia must follow their treatment plans consistently for the treatments to be most effective. These children must be supported at home and at school, so relatives and friends of children diagnosed with Schizophrenia should be ready to provide love, support and patience as well as verbal encouragement. All children should be served a healthy diet and expected to engage in regular exercise routines, though children with Schizophrenia are often opposed to social situations, so team games may not be the best options. Weight gain is often a significant side effect of the medications used to treat Schizophrenia, so a healthy diet and plenty of exercise are extra important for children suffering from this illness.
Schizophrenia is a mental illness that affects very few children but unfortunately has greater effects on an individual’s life the earlier it is present. Diagnosing and treating Schizophrenia as early as possible is imperative to help children lead more happy lives. Parents concerned that their child may be showing signs of Schizophrenia should consult a GP or child psychiatrist for further information.