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The Royal College of Psychiatrists Improving the lives of people with mental illness

Mental Health and Growing Up Factsheet

Schizophrenia: information for young people

TreesAbout this leaflet

This is one in a series of factsheets for parents, carers, professionals and young people entitled Mental Health and Growing Up.

 

This factsheet describes what schizophrenia is and how and why it might affect you. It also offers some practical advice about how to get help.

 

 

 

What is schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia is a serious illness affecting thoughts, feelings and behaviour. It is a type of psychosis which means an illness where people lose touch with reality - see our information on psychosis.

 

How common is it?

It is not common in younger children and usually begins in the late teenage years. About 1 in 100 people will suffer from schizophrenia over their lifetime.

 

What causes schizophrenia?

This is still not fully understood. There are a number of reasons that can make a person more likely to develop schizophrenia or a similar psychotic illness:

 

  • There may be chemical imbalances in the brain.
  • Having a parent or close relative suffering from schizophrenia can increase the chance of developing similar illness.  
  • Stress or extreme life events (like someone close dying).
  • Using drugs like cannabis, LSD, ecstasy and speed (amphetamine).


How do I know if I have schizophrenia?

When a person suffers from schizophrenia they may have symptoms described as ‘positive’ or ‘negative’. This does not mean 'good' or 'bad' ; it is more about 'doing' or 'not doing' things because of the illness. Symptoms may develop suddenlyor creep in more gradually. You may experience the following:

Positive symptoms

These will feel totally real to you and can be distressing. It may seem that other people don't understand or aren't taking you seriously.

 

  • Unusual beliefs or delusions are very strong beliefs which are obviously untrue to others, but not to you. The may feel frightening or seem bizarre. For example, you might strongly believe that there is a plot to harm you or that you are being spied on through the TV or being taken over by aliens.
  • Muddled thinking or thought disorder is when it is difficult to think straight. Sometimes it may feel that others do not understand what you are trying to say. Your ideas may feel jumbled up, but is more than being muddled or confused.
  • Unusual experiences called hallucinations are when you see, hear, smell or feel something that isn’t really there, although you are convinced that it is. ‘Hearing voices’ is one of the most common hallucinations. This can be very frightening. It can make you believe that you are being ‘watched’ or ‘picked on’. Your friends or family may say that you are acting ‘strangely’. They may say that they hear you talking or laughing to ‘yourself’.

Negative symptoms

This does not mean they are ‘bad’ symptoms, just that they are about ‘not doing’ something. You may feel tired and unmotivated and not want to do normal things like:

 

  • go to school
  • do sports
  • see friends
  • get washed and dressed
  • hobbies you used to enjoy.

Other symptoms

You may become frustrated and angry, especially towards your own friends or family. Some people try to smoke or drink alcohol to feel better, but this tends to make things worse. You may find the symptoms so distressing that you feel like harming yourself.


How do I get help? It is important that you seek help early. The earlier you are treated for psychosis, the quicker you can get back to your normal life.

 

Firstly, you could talk to your family, school nurse or GP. They may get you specialist help from a Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service  (CAMHS) team or an Early Intervention Team or Service (EIS) - a specialist team for young people with psychosis.

 

With psychosis, you often don’t realise that you are unwell, which means the people around you might notice it first. If you become very unwell, you could need some time in hospital until your condition stabilises.

 

What is the treatment for psychosis?

Medications called ‘antipsychotics’ are an important part of treatment. They may need to be taken for a long time in order to stay well. As with medication of any kind, there can be side-effects; the doctor you see will be able to advise you on these and what can be done to help.

 

If the psychosis is related to drug use or an underlying physical illness, you may need specific help and treatment to manage this.

 

Other forms of treatment are also important. You and your family will need help to understand more about your illness, how to manage it, and how to help prevent it coming back. You may need support to rebuild your confidence to continue with school, college or work.

 

Talking treatments can be helpful as well, but need to be in addition to medication.


What will happen in the future?

Most young people with early help and treatment recover from their psychotic episode. If the illness is due to an underlying physical illness or the use of drugs, you might avoid having another episode by taking the right treatment and avoiding using drugs.

It is often difficult to know what the long-term effects of a psychotic episode will be, and a definite diagnosis may not be possible straight away.

 

Is there anything else I should do?

It is important to continue with any treatment advised by your doctor and keep a balanced, healthy lifestyle.

 

Talking to others when you feel stressed can help in identifying problems early and getting the right treatment.


Luke, 16, talks about psychosis

"I was about 14 when it happened. I had a good family, did well at school and had group of good friends. Life had been good to me although my mum said I could not handle stress. I would be a bag of nerves before exams, was scared of failing and could not face is someone was unwell.

 

Uncle Rob’s death a year back in the accident was just too much. I knew I would feel upset for a long time. But then I didn’t feel upset. It was strange. I thought people were doing strange things to me like controlling me through radio signals. I felt I had lost control of myself and even felt my body was changing in a strange sort of way… not just the puberty. And then I could not face school, I was swearing, felt muddled in my head. My learning mentor got worried and spoke to my mum, who had noticed my strange behaviour. I couldn’t sleep, couldn’t be bothered about going out. I didn’t like the idea of seeing a psychiatrist from the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service and I thought they would judge me. But it was very different. She seemed to know and understand how I felt, what I thought. I felt relieved. She even said I was not going to be locked away in a hospital. It was just an illness for which I needed to take medication for few months or year.

 

She then introduced me to Kay, a worker from Early Intervention Psychosis team. Kay explained to me and my family all about psychosis, what we could to keep me well. She was there when I felt I was losing it before my exams. It’s nearly a year now. I am like any other 16 year old, going to school, with friends etc... I take my meds and staying away from drugs and alcohol."

 

Further info

Changing Minds: A Multimedia CD-ROM about Mental Health is intended for 13–17 year olds; it talks about addiction, stress, eating disorders, depression, schizophrenia and self-harm. 

Epic friends - mental health problems are common. This website is all about helping you to help your friends who might be struggling emotionally.

Rethink Mental Illness

Offers help to people with severe mental illness (not only schizophrenia) and their carers.

 

Talk to Frank

Helps you find out everything you might want to know about drugs (and some stuff you don't).

 

YoungMinds

Information to young people about mental health and emotional well-being. YoungMinds have also developed HeadMeds which gives young people in England general information about medication. HeadMeds does not give you medical advice. Please talk to your Doctor or anyone else who is supporting you about your own situation because everyone is different.

 

References

Rutter’s Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Fifth Edition (2008). Publisher: Wiley-Blackwell.

The Young Mind: an essential guide for parents, teachers and young adults


 

Revised by the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ Child and Family Public Education Editorial Board. 

Series Editor: Dr Vasu Balaguru

 

We are grateful to the VIKs from Young Minds for commenting on this factsheet.

 

This leaflet reflects the best possible evidence at the time of writing.

© March 2012. Due for review March 2014. Royal College of Psychiatrists.

 


Please note that we are unable to offer advice on individual cases. Please see our FAQ for advice on getting help.

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What is schizophrenia?

  How do I know if I have schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia is a serious illness affecting thoughts, feelings and behaviour. It is a type of psychosis which means an illness where people lose touch with reality - see our information on psychosis.

 

How common is it?

It is not common in younger children and usually begins in the late teenage years. About 1 in 100 people will suffer from schizophrenia over their lifetime.

 

What causes schizophrenia?

This is still not fully understood. There are a number of reasons that can make a person more likely to develop schizophrenia or a similar psychotic illness:

  • There may be chemical imbalances in the brain.
  • Having a parent or close relative suffering from schizophrenia can increase the chance of developing similar illness.  
  • Stress or extreme life events (like someone close dying).
  • Using drugs like cannabis, LSD, ecstasy and speed (amphetamine).

 

 

When a person suffers from schizophrenia they may have symptoms described as ‘positive’ or ‘negative’. This does not mean 'good' or 'bad' ; it is more about 'doing' or 'not doing' things because of the illness. Symptoms may develop suddenlyor creep in more gradually. You may experience the following:

Positive symptoms

These will feel totally real to you and can be distressing. It may seem that other people don't understand or aren't taking you seriously.

 

  • Unusual beliefs or delusions are very strong beliefs which are obviously untrue to others, but not to you. The may feel frightening or seem bizarre. For example, you might strongly believe that there is a plot to harm you or that you are being spied on through the TV or being taken over by aliens.
  • Muddled thinking or thought disorder is when it is difficult to think straight. Sometimes it may feel that others do not understand what you are trying to say. Your ideas may feel jumbled up, but is more than being muddled or confused.
  • Unusual experiences called hallucinations are when you see, hear, smell or feel something that isn’t really there, although you are convinced that it is. ‘Hearing voices’ is one of the most common hallucinations. This can be very frightening. It can make you believe that you are being ‘watched’ or ‘picked on’. Your friends or family may say that you are acting ‘strangely’. They may say that they hear you talking or laughing to ‘yourself’.

Negative symptoms

This does not mean they are ‘bad’ symptoms, just that they are about ‘not doing’ something. You may feel tired and unmotivated and not want to do normal things like:

  • go to school
  • do sports
  • see friends
  • get washed and dressed
  • hobbies you used to enjoy.

Other symptoms

You may become frustrated and angry, especially towards your own friends or family. Some people try to smoke or drink alcohol to feel better, but this tends to make things worse. You may find the symptoms so distressing that you feel like harming yourself.

 

 

What is the treatment for schizophrenia?

 

What will happen in the future?

Medications called ‘antipsychotics’ are an important part of treatment and often need to be taken for a long time in order to stay well. As with medication of any kind, there may be side-effects. The doctor will be able to advise you on what they are and what can be done to help.

 

If you are taking drugs like cannabis, it is very important that you stop.

 

Other forms of treatment are also important. Both you and your family will need help to understand the condition, to cope successfully, and to prevent the illness coming back. Support is often needed to rebuild your confidence to continue with school, college or work.

 

You may be referred to a specialist ‘Early Intervention Service’ (EIS) if available locally. This is a team of specialists who help young people with psychosis. You also may at some point need treatment in hospital or in a specialist in-patient service.

 

Talking treatments can be helpful, but are usually offered in addition to medication.

 

 

Schizophrenia is a chronic illness, which means even if you get better; it might come back later on. This can happen if you stop taking your medication too soon - so it’s really important to follow the advice given to you by your doctor.

 

Your Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) or EIS team will also help you and your family identify ways to help prevent the illness coming back (like following a healthy lifestyle and learning to cope with stress).

 

Most young people will recover from their illness with the right help and treatment. Earlier treatment leads to better recovery and increases the chances of finishing school or college, getting a job and getting on with life.

 

How do I get help?

  • It is important to speak to someone you trust and possibly knows you well, like your GP/teacher. They may not believe or agree with your strange beliefs or experiences, but can still help you by listening and getting the right help for you.
  • It is also possible that your family or teachers first seek help for you as you may not notice there is a problem, and therefore find it difficult to accept that there is something wrong.
  • Often you will be asked to get specialist help. A member or psychiatrist from a CAMHS Service may need to see you to understand and assess your difficulties before treating the illness.

 


19 year old Justin talks about his illness
I was in Year 10 with big dreams about my future. I worked hard, studying wanting to do best. Over time I felt I had special skills and powers. I could work like a genius, I was keen to make discovery, I was sure that I was on my way to be the youngest Nobel prize winner. I couldn’t be bothered by my friends who were just ordinary people. I started hearing special messages through the computer giving me a new formula for my discovery. I had to keep this a secret, be sure not even my family knew all the work I was doing. I was sure there were spies who wished to get the formula and to make money out of it.

 

My mother thought I was crazy. She wanted me to go to college but I had better plans. Then one day she said I have to see my doctor. I was really angry, but in another way she was right. I looked myself in the mirror, it was not me and it felt strange.

 

I met a doctor, a shrink. I thought they were all against me, didn’t understand me. I refused to see them, but only agreed for my family's sake. There was one part of me which felt I was in a dream, something was not right.

 

Slowly it started unfolding … all those thoughts were crazy .it was never me ... I agreed to take some medication at least to help me sleep, not feel scared at night thinking the spies wanted me or my work. A few weeks later my head was clearer. I felt really ashamed and was unsure what I would do in future. I had 'schizophrenia'. I thought I would end it all. I wanted to run away.

 

The psychiatrist and a worker from Early Intervention Team were very patient/ They explained the illness to me. I even spoke to people with similar experiences as me. I am in college now, I have a girlfriend and I am living in a flat with staff who help me. It has been long difficult journey,but it’s not as bad as I thought. I feel happy my mum got me the right help and was there for me all the way.

 


Further info  

References

Epic friends - Mental health problems are common. This website is all about helping you to help your friends who might be struggling emotionally.

Mind - A national mental health charity for England and Wales.

Sane - Provides practical help to improve quality of life for people affected by mental illness.

 

YoungMinds - A charity that offers information to young people about mental health and emotional well-being.

 

Rutter’s Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Fifth Edition (2008). Publisher: Wiley-Blackwell.

National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE, 2009), Clinical Guidelines, CG82: Core interventions in the treatment and management of schizophrenia in primary and secondary care (update).


Information for people with learning disability and their carers

The Royal College of Psychiatrists' Faculty of the Psychiatry of Learning Disability and the Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust have produced accessible information for people with mental health problems and learning disabilities. All these materials have been written and tested with people with learning disabilities and their carers and include information on schizophrenia and different medications for schizophrenia. 

Revised by the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ Child and Family Public Education Editorial Board.

 

Series Editor: Dr Vasu Balaguru.

 

We are grateful to the VIKs from Young Minds for commenting on this factsheet.

This leaflet reflects the best possible evidence at the time of writing.

© March 2012. Due for review March 2014.

 


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