What is Schizophrenia?
||What are the symptoms?
Schizophrenia is a serious mental illness that
affects thinking, emotions and behaviour. It is the most common
Over a lifetime, about 1 in 100 people will
develop schizophrenia. It is most likely to start between the ages
of 15 and 35 years, but can sometimes occur in younger
children. The illness might last for a long time and can be very
We do not know the exact cause of schizophrenia, although it
does seem to relate to chemical imbalances in the brain. Research
shows that having parents or close relatives with mental illness,
experiencing stress and using drugs like
cannabis can all be associated with having
Schizophrenia affects everybody differently. There are two
groups of symptoms, which are described as
‘positive’ and ‘negative’.This
doesn’t mean some are good and some are bad; more that some are
about ‘doing’ things or experiencing symptoms and some are about
‘not doing’ things (see below). Young people with schizophrenia
often have a mixture of the two.
Sometimes, the illness develops slowly and can
be hard to spot, although some young people become unwell very
- Strange beliefs or delusions
are very strongly held beliefs that are not only untrue, but can
seem quite bizarre. The young person may believe that they are
someone different, a world leader or celebrity for example, or they
may believe that other people are ‘out to get them’. They will
believe this is true no matter what you say.
- Thought disorder is when
someone is not thinking straight and it is hard to make sense of
what they are saying. Their ideas may be jumbled up, but it is more
than being muddled or confused.
- Hallucinations are when
someone sees, hears, smells or feels something that isn’t really
there. The most common hallucination that people have is hearing
voices. In schizophrenia, hallucinations are totally real to the
person having them. This can be very frightening and can make them
believe that they are being watched or picked on. People who are
having these experiences may act strangely. For example, they may
talk or laugh to themselves or appear to be talking to
somebody that you can’t see.
The young person suffering from schizophrenia can become
withdrawn and appear unemotional. They seem to lose interest, stop
washing regularly and can spend a lot of time on their
own. They may not be able to carry on with their normal activities,
and usually find it difficult to concentrate on work or study.
Some young people can become frustrated
and angry even towards their own family. Others may take
drugs or drink alcohol to feel better. Some find the symptoms
so distressing that they want to self-harm.
Despite how they are described in the media,
people suffering from schizophrenia are not more dangerous or
violent than anyone else. However, they may come across as worrying
and unpredictable, especially when they feel frightened by their
How do I get help?
What is the treatment for
The earlier it is recognised that a young
person is ill, the better the chances of getting effective
treatment. This speeds recovery and reduces the long-term harm.
Some people can make a complete recovery.
Even if your child won’t come with you, you
might find it helpful to talk to your GP. It is likely that you
will be referred to a psychiatrist in a
child and adolescent mental health service or
an Early Intervention Team or Service (EIS) if this is available
locally. EIS professionals are specialists in working with young
people with psychosis. If your child is very unwell, they may need
admission to hospital for a period of time until their condition
‘antipsychotics’ are an important part of the
treatment of schizophrenia. They treat the symptoms of the illness,
but tend to be more effective with positive symptoms than negative
symptoms. Hallucinations and delusions may take weeks and sometimes
months to improve. Unfortunately, schizophrenia can recur, and may
need long-term treatment.
A number of different antipsychotics
are available, and the psychiatrist will advise which is the
best for your child. Sometimes, several different drugs will need
to be tried to find the most effective for a particular young
Some medicine for the treatment of schizophrenia are
'unlicensed' in children and young people. This does not mean
they do not work, but simple that the drug company has not applied
for a license. If you are worried about this, you should speak to
your doctor or pharmacist.
|Practical help and support
Megan talks about her 19 year old son
It is crucial that medication is combined with
practical help and support for the young person and their family.
This should cover:
- Understanding the illness
It is very important that the young person with schizophrenia
and their family are helped to understand the condition.
- Resuming education, training or starting
An episode of schizophrenia can interfere with education because
it is difficult for a young person to learn when unwell. An
important part of recovery is to plan for their future.
Experiencing stress, hostility and criticism can all
increase the chance of relapse. Families need help with
recognising and reducing these factors, and with how
best to support the young person. As is a normal transition
for others of their age, young people with schizophrenia can
benefit from leaving home and living independently; the
professionals working with them will be able to support the
- Coping with specific symptoms
Some people with schizophrenia find Cognitive
Behavioural Therapy (CBT) helpful in managing
hallucinations, in addition to the medicine prescribed.
"When Justin was 15, he seemed like a typical teenager at
home. Suddenly he stopped going out on his bike, and instead spent
long hours in his room on his computer. He did not show any
interest in doing the engineering degree at university, his
childhood dream. Instead he said he could create his own lab and
make amazing discoveries. I brushed aside this as fantasy, but over
next few months he only talked about this more and more, and spent
most of his time on the computer exploring science websites, books.
He seemed to talk like he knew everything, but it actually none of
it made any sense. He started collecting batteries, wires in his
room, staying awake at night, not bothering to talk, eat or sleep.
I got really worried when he refused to go to school after shouting
at the teacher.
My neighbour told me to go to the GP. She had
someone in family with mental illness. I was really scared, felt
devastated when our GP referred Justin to the Child and Family
Mental Health Service (CAMHS). It was really difficult at first,
even to get Justin to the appointments or to talk. But the mental
health nurse and practitioner were very good. They knew immediately
that something was wrong. Once Justin had been put on medication,
they met with the school to help him complete his subjects.
Justin was upset and depressed once his
strange thoughts went away. He even thought of suicide, but CAMHS
were there all the way, never made him feel it was his mistake or
that it cannot get better. They were even there when Justin moved
to adult services and supported accommodation. He is in College
now, even has a girlfriend. He has had few ups and downs, but
schizophrenia doesn’t seem to be as bad as they show in movies.