Diagnosing Schizophrenia on Younger People


If you ask families of schizophrenic patients to explain about the onset of this disorder, no two accounts will be completely the same. A likely reason that you will get widely different descriptions is because often schizophrenia creeps in really slowly until its signs become too obvious, and sometimes it shows up so suddenly, like a thunderbolt out of the blue.

Many early signs of schizophrenia are nonspecific and subtle, tending to fluctuate over a long period of time. A person can feel fine one morning, but overtly psychotic at night, and fine again tomorrow morning. When you are living with a person or seeing him day-after-day, the changes can be very subtle that you won’t even realize them.

Another factor is influential: you tend to hope for the best – if those symptoms disappear for awhile, you’ll think that it’s all over. Even looking back, it may be hard to mark the actual time when your loved one started to show some symptoms. In this matter, “first break” is a term often used to describe the onset of schizophrenia. It is usually marked by several distinctive symptoms that are severe enough that they usually require some form of treatments, which may include immediate hospitalization.

Schizophrenia diagnosis can be tricky because the “first break” may overlap with the turbulent years of adolescence. On teens, the first signs of schizophrenia may emerge so vaguely or so slowly that they overlap or mimic “typical” adolescent behaviors. With pressures to cope with their peers and surging hormones, many teens tend to be restless and moody. Also, many adolescents are often more likely to engage in venturous behaviors, including experimentation with alcohol and/or drugs.

The average parents, teachers or event pediatricians may find it hard to differentiate between the common upheaval of adolescence years and the early signs of schizophrenia, particularly when the signs or symptoms are masked by drugs abuse. For this reason, many parents of adolescent with schizophrenia argued they never understood the disorder or recognized its signs until long after they are validly diagnosed.

Before any obvious signs of psychosis manifest themselves (in a period often referred to as a prodromal phase), those with schizophrenia may have a few nonpsychotic symptoms. These are a few of the early signs of schizophrenia:

• An increased inclination to remain alone and have social withdrawal:

• Performance deterioration at work or school

• An inability to concentrate and lose motivation

• Increased anxiety, depression, and/or irritability

• Severe suspicion

• Neglect of physical appearances

• Disrupted sleep patterns

Thinking about or even overexert oneself isn’t actually a warning sign, although, it’s a red flag that must be taken very seriously. If a family member is thinking or talking about suicide, an immediate action is necessary – you should have him examined by a mental-health professional.

A clinical psychologist can eliminate false judgments by considering several other mental disorders:

• Social Phobia: Severe fear on any situation that can cause embarrassment in public, sufferers feel that people are continuously observing and judging them all the time.

• Personality Disorder: Thinking that others are not dependable and unfriendly, sufferers feel profound distrust for everyone, including his family members and friends.

• Bipolar Disorder: A common mental disorder whereby someone experiences extreme mood swings.

Initially, a psychiatrist may perform blood analysis to make sure that the symptoms are not caused by addictive drugs or alcohol. Brain imaging is sometimes used for screening because some schizophrenia symptoms may actually be caused by brain abnormality like brain injury, brain tumor, or congenital birth defect. It is also important to use brain imaging method such as CT or MRI to rule out the possibility of schizophrenia accurately.

The DUP (duration of untreated psychosis) is the time period between the “first break” and the first official treatment. Based on studies, the average DUP is between six to eight years. This lag can be due to a few reasons, including:

• Bad stigma related to mental disorders

• High cost of treatment coupled with the lack of health insurance

• Limited beliefs and knowledge concerning mental disorders

Unlike most mental or physical disorders, schizophrenia is almost never diagnosed too quickly. Although family members know about strange mental signs and symptoms, they may fail to seek help immediately and hope the symptoms will eventually resolve on their own. Additionally, pediatricians and family doctors are often uncomfortable hinting that a young patient may have schizophrenia symptoms – they’re simply not used to diagnosing this type of mental disorder. And even many psychiatrists can disinclined to deliver the news. If you suspect that a friend or family member have schizophrenia symptoms, ask him to see a psychiatrist who is experienced about the disorder. If you are a parent you need to trust your gut instinct if you suspect something is wrong with your child and get him checked out; you have probably known your child a lot longer than anyone else.

Getting an immediate and accurate diagnosis is the initial step in getting help. Many times, your suspicions and fears will be allayed those who are knowledgeable about this particular mental disorder.

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Gary Wickman

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