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Schizophrenia in Teens

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What is teen schizophrenia?

As the teen walks in front of the radio, she becomes convinced that it’s calling out her name. It speaks to her directly, in a voice that only she can hear, and it tells her that danger is coming and she should seek cover immediately. Without speaking to anyone else, the girl packs her bags and heads out into the night, looking for shelter and escape. This might sound like the opening lines to the latest best-selling science fiction novel, but in fact, this fictional case portrays a case of what schizophrenia in teens may look like.

Schizophrenia in Teens

The word “schizophrenia” has its roots in German, and roughly translated, it means “a splitting of the mind,” according to the Online Etymology Dictionary. People suffering from schizophrenia have trouble processing any personal emotions. And, they often become completely detached from their true reality. Schizophrenia behaviors begin to develop in adolescence. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, symptoms of schizophrenia often start in people who are younger than 30. Learning more about the disease, and how it can be detected, may help parents provide needed care to their teens with schizophrenia.

Positive Symptoms

When people discuss schizophrenia, they often focus on the so-called “positive symptoms” of the disease. These are the psychotic behaviors that are so hard to ignore in people who have schizophrenia. And, they indicate that the person is experiencing a distorted version of reality.

People with positive symptoms may:

  • Repeat movements, or stop moving altogether.
  • Think in a disorganized manner. The person might be unable to put together a complete sentence or finish a thought.
  • Hear sounds, see things or pick up scents that no one else can detect. It’s common for people with schizophrenia to hear voices no one else can hear.
  • Believe things that aren’t true. Some people believe that they have magical powers, while others believe that they’re famous or wealthy.

Negative Symptoms

People with schizophrenia may have many more symptoms that do not manifest as delusions. In fact, schizophrenia in teens comes with a variety of negative symptoms. For example, they may seem to have an inability to show emotion. This can look quite a bit like depression.

However, some teens often display inappropriate emotions. For example, they may laugh at a funeral or cry at a birthday party. When asked, they may have no idea that this is not the right emotion to display. And, they may have no explanation for why they have behaved the way they did. These teens might also have difficulty making friends. And, due to their behavior, are often actively shunned by peers and members of their family.

Cognitive Symptoms

These symptoms are mainly internal, and they can be hard to spot. People with schizophrenia may have trouble making decisions, paying attention or retaining information. This can have a deep and obvious impact on teens, as they may be unable to keep their grades high, or they may be unable to complete homework assignments on time. According to an article published in the journal Advances in Psychiatric Treatment, these changes rarely develop overnight.

In fact, the authors suggest that many teens with schizophrenia struggle with intellectual tasks for months or even years before other symptoms of schizophrenia begin to develop. They may have even had difficulty with the concept of toilet training when they were very small children, the authors report. Therefore, cognitive symptoms might be even more difficult for parents to spot. Their children won’t necessarily do worse in school all of a sudden. Instead, these adolescents may have always struggled in school. Now, however, these teens might maintain their school struggles and they may also display emotional problems at the same time. This might be a clear sign of schizophrenia in teens and that the teen needs help.

Causes of Schizophrenia

According to the website, people with one first-degree relative with schizophrenia have a 10 percent chance of developing the disease, while people with an identical twin with schizophrenia have a 50 percent chance of developing the disease. Similar to other conditions that have psychotic symptoms, Schizophrenia is a disease that seems to run in families. Genetics do play a role here, but environmental factors also have a part to play. Much more research must be done before doctors will know definitively what causes the disease.

There is one factor that has been positively associated with schizophrenia. According to a study published in BMJ, teens who smoke marijuana are at risk for developing psychotic episodes. And, teens who smoke marijuana habitually are at risk for developing full-blown schizophrenia. An article in the Harvard Health Blog suggests that, during adolescence, teens are building connections between the judgment/processing centers of the brain and the emotional center of the brain. However, marijuana use disrupts those connections and keeps them from forming. As a result, the adolescent is at a large risk for psychotic thinking and schizophrenia.

Seeking Medical Help

If you think your teen is struggling with schizophrenia, a visit to the doctor is necessary.

Schizophrenia in teens is difficult to spot. Furthermore, in teens, it can masquerade as bipolar disorder, depression or just normal adolescent behavior. Sometimes, it’s best to get help from an expert and make sure the child is getting the right diagnosis at the right time. Teens who develop persistent delusions may be harder to reach if they keep those delusions hidden for long periods of time. The delusions become habits. By getting help sooner, those habits might not have the time to form and become entrenched behavior.

Preparing for Treatment

According to the Mayo Clinic, there are some things parents can do to prepare for this appointment:

  • Keep a list of symptoms the teen is displaying, and include information about when they were noticed and how long they’ve been present.
  • Jot down dates corresponding to major life changes the teen has experienced in the recent past.
  • Gather up all medications the teen is taking, including vitamins, and bring those to the appointment.
  • Find out if anyone else in the family has experienced schizophrenia.

During this appointment, the teen will probably be asked to answer a series of questions about how he/she is feeling. Some doctors also ask patients to take written tests or perform actions within a specific period of time. Other doctors run a series of blood tests or other physical tests, just to rule out the possibility that another disease could be causing the symptoms the teen is experiencing. While parents might not be allowed to participate in these tests, they may be asked to provide information about the family’s medical history, and they certainly will be allowed to ask questions. With a firm diagnosis in hand, parents can begin to plan for treatment for their teens.


Schizophrenia is a chronic, life-long disease. People with schizophrenia have differences in their brain structures, chemical makeup and processing abilities. Since people with schizophrenia have a difficult time with understanding information and processing lessons, it can be difficult for them to completely take control of their disease.

The goal of schizophrenia treatment is to help the person understand the disease and work hard to keep it under control.


Schizophrenia medications are quite sophisticated, and if provided at the proper dosage, they can help people maintain healthy thought patterns and the ability to live independently. Pairing medications with therapy is an excellent way to help the person understand the disease and gain control of symptoms.

While it might be true that teens with schizophrenia may need the help of their family members for an extended period of time in order to beat back the disease, there’s no reason to think that they can’t strive for wellness and achieve it. At Newport Academy, we’re like to helpPlease call us today.