Schizophrenia can be a very misunderstood disease of the brain. It creates an altered perception of reality that seems very real to those whose minds are impacted by the disease.
There is a common misconception that schizophrenia means having “split personalities.” This is not the case. The root of its true meaning is “scattered thoughts.” Yet it is so much more.
Schizophrenia is a disease that changes brain chemistry and distorts a person’s senses. The world they see, hear or experience becomes very different from the one we know. They may hear voices we can’t hear. Become unable to feel emotion. Be overtaken by suspicious beliefs. View completely different surroundings than we do.
No, schizophrenia has nothing to do with having multiple personalities, but everything to do with experiencing altered realities.
Impacting approximately 1 percent of the U.S. population (3 million people), schizophrenia affects men and women equally in all ethnic groups. While it is rare for onset to occur in young children or adults over 45, it can and does occur for those age groups.
Most cases of schizophrenia appear in the teen years or early adulthood. The earlier the onset of symptoms, the more severe schizophrenia can be. After all, the minds of children are in a critical period of development that continues well into the 20s.
Symptoms of onset in teenagers are different than those in adults. What may be seen as teenage growing pains or rebellious teenage behavior could actually be early warning signs that deeper struggles and an imbalance in brain chemistry are occurring.
Typically, teens exhibit behavior changes gradually over the course of six to nine months.
It can make them become withdrawn and suspicious; have difficulty telling dreams from reality; think television life is their own; hear voices that are not real; behave like a much younger child; go from social and active to withdrawn, shy and clingy; display extreme moodiness; feel severe anxiety and fearfulness; seem confused or irrational; have vivid and bizarre thoughts and ideas; think someone is out to get them; or have severe problems making and keeping friends.
When schizophrenia starts trapping a teenage mind, the youth has no control over what his reality becomes. However, parents can help these children to regain control of their lives. Be aware of the symptoms. While there is no cure, early detection is crucial. The sooner support, medication and therapy begin, the better the chances a child can live fully and recover quality of life.
Dr. James Perry, Ph.D., is CEO of Mental Health Services for Madison County, located at 210 N. Main St. in London; (740) 852-6256; www.MHSMC.org.