Psychosis (Schizophrenia) in Children and Youth

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What is psychosis (schizophrenia)?

Schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders are medical illnesses leading to strange or bizarre thinking, perceptions (sight, sound), behaviors, and emotions. Psychosis, a brain-based condition, is made better or worse by environmental factors like drug use and stress. Children and youth who go through psychosis often say meaningless things or cannot make sure if something is real or unreal. It is an uncommon psychiatric disease in young children and is difficult to diagnose in its early phases.

The onset of schizophrenia

The appearance of psychosis‘s symptoms before 12 is rare. For those who might have psychotic disorders or schizophrenia as adults (adult-onset), it is common for them to begin experiencing early symptoms throughout puberty or adolescence. The period when an adolescent goes through the early warning signs of psychosis is known as prodrome. During this time, young people figure out that what they are experiencing is strange or concerning. They may find it hard to admit these problems. It is essential that parents are aware of the early warning signs and offers support.

Most children having schizophrenia exhibit delays in language and other functions long before their psychotic signs (hallucinations, delusions, and disordered thinking) appear. In the first years of life, about 30% of these children have temporary symptoms of pervasive developmental disorder like rocking, posturing, and arm flapping. Childhood-onset of psychosis may show itself in the form of poor motor development such as irregular crawling.

Also, these children may become more disruptive compared to those with later onset.
It is particularly important to focus on unexpected changes in thoughts and behaviors. Remember that the onset of several of the symptoms below, and not just any change, point out a problem that should be assessed. The symptoms below should not be ones induced by current substance use or another medical condition.

Early warning signs

−Feelings that the brain is not working properly
−Feelings that their mind or eyes cheat on them
−Seeing things and hearing voices that are unreal
−Hearing knocking, tapping, clicking or their name called
−Confused thoughts
−Vivid and weird thoughts and ideas
−Unexpected and weird changes in emotions
−Strange behavior
−Extreme sensitivity to light, sounds, smells, and touch
−Ideas that people are after them
−Anxiety or suspicion that is irrational
−Social withdrawal
−Serious problems in making and keeping friends
−Problem speaking, writing, focusing or doing simple tasks

The behavior of children with this condition may alter over time. Psychosis can develop steadily or suddenly. Children and youth may begin talking about weird fears and ideas. They may start to stick onto parents or say things that do not make sense. Others who used to be involved in relationships with peers may become more shy or quiet or seem to be in their own world.

How to treat psychosis (schizophrenia)

Early diagnosis and medical treatment are essential. It is particularly important that children and youth with the symptoms above have a complete evaluation. Individual treatment plans done by other professionals is necessary for these children. They may also need a combination of medication and individual therapy as well as family therapy, and specialized programs (wraparound services, early psychosis treatment). Lifestyle changes (keeping stress at bay and taking fish oils), extra supports (therapy and school support) and psychiatric medication can be useful for many of the symptoms and problems identified.

Making the decision about whether or not to use medications can be challenging. Second-generation (atypical) antipsychotic drugs become the top choice because they have fewer side effects than standard drugs. Serious side effects of second-generation antipsychotic drugs include weight gain, diabetes, and high cholesterol levels. Parents should consult a psychiatrist who is specialized in evaluating, diagnosing, and treating children with schizophrenia.


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Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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