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How to Recognize Schizophrenia in Teens

Schizophrenia can be hard to spot in teens. Sometimes in can be tough to see the difference between ordinary teenage moodiness and signs of more serious illness.

But there are some symptoms to watch out for that can help you decide if you need to check with your doctor.

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What to Look For

Symptoms in teens can come on gradually over 9 months or more. They can sometimes imitate those of other problems such as anxiety or depression. Especially at first, symptoms may look like the stuff of typical teen years: bad grades, changing friends, trouble sleeping, or irritability.

But there are some early warning signs in teens that show up as changes in thinking, emotions, and behavior.

Changes in Thinking

  • Lack of concentration or ability to follow a train of thought
  • Seeing or hearing things that aren't real (hallucinations)
  • Confusing television and dreams with reality
  • Strange ideas that may not make sense (for example, thinking that parents are stealing things or that an evil spirit possesses him)
  • Paranoia -- thinking that people are after him or talking about him
  • Dwelling unreasonably on the past

Changes in Emotions

  • Extreme moodiness or irritability
  • Angry outbursts
  • Severe fearfulness or anxiety

Changes in Behavior

  • Unblinking, vacant expression
  • Awkward or unusual movements of the face or body
  • Talking to himself, using odd speech that you can't understand, or making rapid shifts in topics
  • Inappropriate responses, such as laughing during a sad movie
  • Trouble "reading" social cues in others
  • Problems making and keeping friends
  • Becoming increasingly isolated
  • Poor personal grooming and self-care
  • Substance abuse
  • Threatening behaviors

What to Do About Schizophrenia Symptoms in Teens

If you notice symptoms like these, your teen needs to be checked by a doctor right away. That's especially true if there's a history of schizophrenia in your family.

Your family doctor can refer you to a psychiatrist who works with teens. A psychiatrist has special training in diagnosing and treating schizophrenia.

If your child has schizophrenia, a combination of treatments may work best. These might include medication, and individual and family therapy.

A diagnosis of schizophrenia in your teen can be tough news to hear. But with the right treatment, kids with schizophrenia do go to college, hold jobs, and have a family life.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Joseph Goldberg, MD on March 27, 2014
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