Schizophrenia & Teen Treatment
Have you ever seen anyone out in the community talking to themselves and acting what you perceive to be strange or erratic? Did they make you nervous because you were unsure if they would behave in a way that we believe to be socially acceptable? This person could have been experiencing schizophrenia. Perhaps they were unmedicated or they were medicated and this is simply their baseline. We have all likely seen, met, or interacted with someone who is living with Schizophrenia. While it is unlikely that symptoms appear in the early teen years, it is possible that teenagers be diagnosed with schizophrenia and need treatment. It is important to get them immediately connected with helpful and compassionate providers that can provide quality care.
Anyone living with Schizophrenia could tell you that it’s not always the easiest life and developing solid routines and getting appropriate treatment is essential for wellness. There are a variety of treatment options that we can discuss, but if you are the parent of a teenager who may need treatment for schizophrenia, you should first know the signs and symptoms to consider.
Schizophrenia is a chronic, serious mental illness. It impacts the way a person perceives the world by disrupting the way they think, feel, and behave. It is not a common mental health disorder compared to others, but it can have great and often unfortunate impacts on individuals’ lives. Many people who experience schizophrenia often have a great distrust of accessing help and may end up unable to function as a result. For example, this can lead to loss of employment, lack of education, substance use, and homelessness. To prevent these kinds of negative outcomes, early intervention is important.
The symptoms of schizophrenia typically start in early adulthood. The symptoms can be classified in three ways: positive, negative, and cognitive.
Positive symptoms are the symptoms that are not seen in “healthy” people or people who are considered neurotypical. These symptoms cause someone to have trouble living in reality. A person might hallucinate or hear or see something that isn’t there. They could be delusional where they truly think and believe something not based in reality. For example, the belief that someone is Jesus or has superpowers. This belief is fixed and often cannot be adjusted. They will have unusual ways of thinking and that may have agitated body movements.
Negative symptoms are those that are disruptive to more neurotypical behaviors. This could include having a flat affect or reduce emotional expression. A person could also feel very little pleasure from their everyday life and struggle to maintain their regular activities. They might also stop speaking often or even at all.
Finally, cognitive symptoms are those that impact a person’s cognitive functioning. This could include reducing the ability to comprehend or understand, known as cognitive functioning. A person could struggle to make decisions. They might find it difficult to focus or pay attention. Finally, they may be unable to use the information after learning it. This is known as a reduced working memory.
Research shows that there are risk factors for your teen developing schizophrenia. This includes familial experience. If someone they are genetically related to had schizophrenia, this increases their likelihood. Additionally, being exposed to viruses as young people, malnutrition in the womb and birthing problems could increase the likelihood of developing schizophrenia.
If your teenager has schizophrenia, it likely won’t occur to you overnight that they were all of a sudden different. You will likely notice symptoms in your teenager that change over time. You should look for differences over weeks and months, instead of overnight. In fact, the early stages of schizophrenia often look like anxiety or depression, where an individual is likely to retreat and take little pleasure in their life. They may find it difficult to sustain friendships they once valued, perform well in school, sleep well, and interact with the family.
You should look for any changes in their thinking including the inability to follow a though process, seeing or hearing things, having ideas you consider strange, or being paranoid. You should also look for emotional changes, including anger and irritability. Finally, you should look for changes in their behavior including lacking expression, talking to their selves, isolating, and poor daily self-care.
If you as a parent notice any of the above symptoms, you should seek support right away. It is recommended to start with their primary care doctor. This provider will likely recommend you to a mental health provider such as a psychiatrist and counselor to discuss reasons for these symptoms, provide a diagnosis, assist with developing a treatment plan, and managing any prescribed medications. You may not get a diagnosis for your teenager right away. Continue to be the persistent and advocating parent that you are until you are able to find answers for why your teen is so different than they were before.
If you do receive a diagnosis of schizophrenia for your teenager, it is best to learn as much as you can about the diagnosis and prognosis. I recommend working with the teen’s psychiatrist as well as conducting your own research. The National Institute of Mental Health will have great resources and information for you as you work to learn more about this condition. You and your family members should be prepared for how to support your teenager, instead of accidentally making the situation worse because of a lack of knowledge about the condition. This is common and we want you to avoid this in order to have the most success with your teenager.
Please also know that your teenager getting a diagnosis of schizophrenia doesn’t mean that their life is over. Many people live very well when they have access to consistent and appropriate treatment. It does not mean you failed them in any way, whatsoever. In fact, you getting them the right supports means that you are doing the best that you can for them. Often this is a period of mourning for a parent. It is okay to grieve the loss of the child you thought you would have for the teenager that you do have who has a mental health condition. Please also know that there are support available to parents such as support groups and individual and family counseling.
If your teenager does have a diagnosis of schizophrenia, learning to navigate the mental health system will be helpful to you as it’s not always a very intuitive system. There are many treatment options, such as medication and therapy, that we can discuss. You should also know your local mental health crisis line phone number in the event your teenager is having a psychotic break or mental health crisis and you need immediate support. You should also know your local hospitals and emergency rooms that do better than others with a mental health crisis. You can ask your teenager’s physician for recommendations and they will likely have some.
Now that you are seeking treatment for your teen, there are antipsychotic medication treatments and psychosocial treatments to explore, including counseling. There are many antipsychotic medications on the market for schizophrenia that are typically taken daily in pill form or injected monthly. The popular medications include Clozapine, Seroquel, Risperdal, Zyprexa, and Abilify. While they may seem like intense medications for your teenager to take, they will greatly reduce psychotic symptoms such as seeing and hearing things that are not real. Your teenager’s psychiatrist will work with you and your teen to find the medication that best suits them. They should be responsible for managing these medications on a consistent basis. At first, you may see the psychiatrist quite often for them to provide oversight until the right dosage and medication is found. Then your teenager will not require frequent visits for medication management.
Your teenager will also benefit from psychosocial treatments. Individual counseling will be geared at helping the person identify and use helpful coping skills despite their symptoms. This will help them to continue to be engaged at school, in their preferred activities, and in their relationships. Those who attend individual therapy will be more likely to have fewer hospitalizations and relapses in symptoms.
Often the best option for a teen experiencing schizophrenia and acute crisis is to explore inpatient residential treatment options. This would allow your teen 24/7 access to onsite professionals including psychiatrists, counselors, doctors, and nurses. It would really kick start their recovery experience and help them by providing intensive treatment. This would also offer family therapy where you can visit your teenager and learn about the ways you can create the best home environment for their needs and care.
Regardless of the kinds of treatment your teenager accesses, your job as a parent in this situation is to always be as helpful as you can be. You should take care of yourselves in this process because it will likely be exhausting and frustrating at times. It will also be exhilarating and happy when you find a treatment that works.
Things that you can do to help include finding and encouraging your teenager to attend treatments. They likely won’t want to. This is normal because they’re teenagers and it isn’t cool to go to therapy at this age, but it could save their life. You should help them to learn about their condition and the ways that it is treated so they are an active participant in their care. You should also allow them to have feelings and express them about their situation. Please always be respectful, loving, and kind regardless of the frustrations that may come up during this time. It will make a great impact on your child to know they are loved regardless of their serious mental illness. This will result in better outcomes.
You should advocate for your teenagers’ providers to operate in a wraparound way. This means that they are all consistently communicating and working towards common goals that your teenager has for their recovery. This will inherently happen in an inpatient residential treatment program because the providers are all onsite together. But, if your teen access outpatient treatment, their providers will likely not all be in the same location. This makes it more difficult for them to be on the same page and operating off of the same treatment plan. Ask that they communicate to see the best outcomes for your teenager.
If you have other children, ask that they too are actively involved in the treatment program and access individual therapy. They may feel as though your teenager with schizophrenia’s needs are taking over their own needs. This is normal when one person has a lot going on. It could lead to negative outcomes for your neurotypical child, however, so getting them supports will be helpful. They can learn coping strategies and ways to interact that promote the health of the family unit as well.
We know that supporting a teenager with schizophrenia is not easy, but we know and believe you can manage this well. Getting the right treatment and seeking appropriate support will make all the difference.
Here at Hillcrest, we understand how teens dealing with schizophrenia can suffer in their day to day lives. Because of our experience working with teenagers that are dealing with mental health issues, we believe that we’re a fantastic place to send your teenager for help with developing coping mechanisms for their schizophrenia – or any other form of mental health issue. Not sure how we can help? Why not reach out for a callback or to set up a tour?