What is Adolescent Schizophrenia?

A. Gabrenas

Adolescent schizophrenia is a severe mental health problem that begins in the teen years, usually between 13 and 17 years of age. Sometimes called early-onset schizophrenia, it has many characteristics similar to adult schizophrenia, a disorder that affects a person’s thinking, mood and actions, though there are also some key differences. Adolescent schizophrenia may produce a variety of symptoms, including lack of interest in usual activities, loss of motivation, hallucinations, delusions, and unusual behavior and speech. The disorder cannot be cured and generally requires lifelong mental health treatment, which can include medication, therapy and skills training.

Hallucinations, delusions and unusual behavior are all signs of adolescent schizophrenia.
Hallucinations, delusions and unusual behavior are all signs of adolescent schizophrenia.

In general, all forms of schizophrenia are typically defined as brain disorders that get in the way of how a person interprets reality and functions in society. The adult version normally begins in the late teens or early 20s and may have a variable course, with periods of severely disordered thinking followed by periods of relative remission. With adolescent schizophrenia, a person generally experiences similar bouts of altered reality and inhibited functioning, but they usually begin earlier in the teen years and may be less severe than those seen in adult schizophrenia. Teens with schizophrenia also tend to have with fewer periods of normalcy as compared to their adult counterparts.

The positive and negative symptoms of adolescent schizophrenia can have a significant impact on an individual's life.
The positive and negative symptoms of adolescent schizophrenia can have a significant impact on an individual's life.

Symptoms that can signal adolescent schizophrenia are often divided into two categories: negative and positive. Negative symptoms of adolescent schizophrenia are signs that represent the lack of certain characteristics normally found in healthy people. They can include having few emotions, losing interest in things the person used to like and losing the drive to complete everyday tasks or goals that were once important.

While often less pronounced than negative symptoms, people with adolescent schizophrenia do generally have at least one positive symptom. These signs are called positive because they may be seen in people with mental health problems, but not in people without such conditions. Positive symptoms of adolescent schizophrenia can include hallucinations, which can involve hearing voices or seeing things that aren’t real, and delusions, which can involve thinking things that aren’t true. It can also include unintelligible speech, extremely odd behavior and/or emotional reactions that are not in sync with the situation, such as crying at a joke.

Both negative and positive symptoms of adolescent schizophrenia can impact a person’s life significantly. While there may be periods of relative normalcy, the disorder cannot be cured and therefore generally requires ongoing treatment. Medication, usually in the form of antipsychotics, is one of the primary treatments. Antipsychotics typically have an affect on the way certain chemicals in the brain work and can help lessen many of the symptoms of schizophrenia. Different antipsychotics work in slightly different ways, so people with adolescent schizophrenia may have to try more than one before finding an effective treatment.

Other treatment options that may be used along with medication include therapy and skills training. Therapy can help a person with adolescent schizophrenia cope with his or her condition better. Skills training, which may focus on education, job and/or social skills, can help a person learn to function better in various aspects of life.

Teens with schizophrenia tend to have fewer periods of normalcy as compared to their adult counterparts.
Teens with schizophrenia tend to have fewer periods of normalcy as compared to their adult counterparts.

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