Schizophrenia is a rare mental health condition with pronounced, potentially dangerous behavioral symptoms. If your teen or adolescent has been diagnosed with schizophrenia or a related schizoaffective disorder, the experience can be frightening and overwhelming. You may wonder how you can support them, or if they will face this battle for their whole life. While schizophrenia and related mental health conditions don’t often disappear entirely, professional treatment can enable emotional stability and a high quality of life for those struggling with these conditions. Learning about schizophrenia and related conditions is the first step to finding the right treatment for your child.
Common Signs and Symptoms of Schizophrenia
Some of the first signs of schizophrenia in adolescents can include mood changes and irritability, sleep disturbances, and other shifts in behavior. Many of these signs occur in other much more common mental health conditions, like depression and anxiety. This is why diagnosing schizophrenia in the early stages is so difficult – even though catching and treating symptoms as early as possible can make a huge difference in positive outcomes. Once schizophrenia has developed to a greater degree, some of the most recognizable symptoms include:
- Hallucinations, where an individual sees or hears things not present in reality. Most often, individuals with schizophrenia will experience auditory hallucinations in the form of hearing voices. They may also see things that do not exist. All senses can be impacted. Importantly, the hallucinations a person experiences often seem just as “real” as anything else.
- Delusions, in which an individual holds certain illogical or unfounded beliefs. The individual may feel they are being persecuted. They may also believe they are receiving personal messages from illogical places.
- Cognitive issues, such as slow thinking, feelings of “brain fog,” difficulty concentrating, or slowed speech.[i] It’s common for individuals with schizophrenia to develop memory issues, trouble following conversations, or similar cognitive impairments.
- Negative symptoms, which can involve a reduction in emotional expression, motivation, or the ability to plan activities.[ii]
Understanding Schizoaffective Disorder
In schizoaffective disorder, the hallucinations and delusions typical of schizophrenia exist alongside the mood issues of conditions like depression or bipolar disorder. Hallucinations and delusions may appear for at least two weeks at a time. Individuals with a schizoaffective disorder also experience the low moods characterized by depression – or, drastic mood swings between periods of mania (high energy) and depression. These depressive and bipolar subtypes of schizoaffective disorder lead to even more challenges for those affected, speaking to the need for professional treatment.[iii]
Treating Schizophrenia and Schizoaffective Disorder
Both schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder require professional intervention to treat properly. With the right combination of therapy, medication, and support, teens and adolescents struggling with these conditions can live healthy, happy lives. Treatments for schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder include:
- Medication-based treatments for these disorders often involve antipsychotic medications, which help to reduce episodes of hallucinations and delusions. Antidepressant medications can also help to stabilize moods and reduce depressive symptoms. Finding the right combination of medication is crucial. That process must be guided by a mental health professional who is familiar with your child’s unique needs, symptoms, and medical history.
- Therapeutic approaches can help teens and adolescents with schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder learn effective coping and life skills. Emotional coping techniques help teens and adolescents respond to periods of emotional difficulty or instability in productive ways. Life skills training helps them manage everyday challenges related to their conditions and build a new level of confidence.
Schizophrenia often presents serious challenges to families. Siblings may not understand their family member’s condition, or may not know how to help and support them. They can also experience feelings of jealousy around receiving less attention than their sibling. Family therapy, in which a mental health professional and the family work together to develop strategies for managing schizophrenia, can be an incredibly helpful resource to solve these issues.[iv] Family therapy sessions can help answer common questions parents may have about their child’s condition. They can also help families develop treatment goals and make detailed plans for crisis intervention.[v] Innercept employs all of these approaches in one-on-one and group settings to help teens learn healthy ways of managing their condition and building healthier lives.
Innercept’s Approach to Treating Schizophrenia
At Innercept, we understand that schizophrenia is a challenging condition to manage for teens and their loved ones. It can occur alongside many other mental health conditions, like anxiety and depression. Our comprehensive evaluations identify each client’s unique symptoms. We also isolate any contributing factors or co-occurring mental conditions and develop a personalized treatment plan to address them.
Comprehensive medication management, a safe, “soft-landing” environment and numerous evidence-based therapeutic interventions are just the beginning. We engage our clients one-on-one, with their peers, and with families to tackle schizophrenia’s impact on their lives with compassionate guidance. We show clients new, healthy ways to cope with emotional difficulties that come with schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorders. We help them build new life skills and achieve a greater level of confidence and competence in daily living. And, we introduce new hobbies and interests, from exercise to horticulture, that get clients involved in positive, growth-oriented activities.
The result of these interventions is personalized treatment that helps the whole person – not just a fix for symptoms, but for the underlying emotional and developmental issues our clients face. That way, clients with schizophrenia can learn valuable strategies for managing their condition, coping with new difficulties in healthy ways, and living more fulfilled, happier lives overall.