Psychosis is a disconnection from reality, the two main symptoms being delusions and hallucinations. Delusions are a thought disorder, an unshakeable belief that people hold even though they are untrue and not based in reality. Hallucinations are incorrect sensory perceptions which include when people hear, see, smell, taste, or feel things that are not really there. For example, a person with psychosis may hear voices. These are called auditory hallucinations.
Psychosis typically develops between ages 18 to 25, however, children can also develop it. Childhood schizophrenia is rare and affects approximately 0.4 percent of children. While any child can develop schizophrenia, there are risk factors, such as brain structure or a family history of schizophrenia. An exact cause for childhood schizophrenia is unknown. It is difficult to diagnose schizophrenia in children because many healthy children who do not have psychosis can show signs similar to that of psychosis, such as having an imaginary friend.
Treatment for childhood schizophrenia typically includes therapy, such as educating the child and family on what life is like with schizophrenia and how to manage symptoms. Antipsychotic medication may also be prescribed but this depends on the child’s age. The majority of antipsychotics are for those who are 10 and older.
Childhood schizophrenia impacts many areas of a child’s life, including issues with learning, memory, and relationships. Life with schizophrenia requires lifelong treatment and adults with schizophrenia often have trouble holding down jobs. It is very important to get a child with psychosis treatment early because early intervention leads to better outcomes.
If your child has been diagnosed with psychosis or schizophrenia, it is essential to get them a treatment team. Search for a psychiatrist and a therapist for your child. The therapist can help the child learn coping skills to manage and live with their symptoms while the psychiatrist can monitor whether the child needs medication. Treatment works best when your child takes an active role in their treatment. This means that the child understands their treatment plan and is committed to following it. With the help of a mental health care team and proper treatment, you and your child can learn about relapse warning signs, and have a plan in place for if a relapse occurs. Family members should also participate in therapy to learn how to better communicate with their child about their experience. It’s important that all parents are involved in meetings with the psychiatrist where significant decisions are being made about medications.
It is essential that teens with psychosis stay away from drugs and alcohol, as drugs can increase symptoms of psychosis and alcohol can increase the side effects of antipsychotic medication. These drugs to avoid include marijuana, which can trigger psychotic episodes and contribute to the persistence of the psychosis.
Talk to your pediatrician if your child shows any signs of social or developmental delays, bizarre ideas or speech, or hostility and suspiciousness. These can be warning signs for early schizophrenia.
-Written by student intern (2022-2023) contributor Logan Walker-Liang.