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Schizophrenia — most misunderstood mental illness

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Mumbai: Schizophrenia during childhood is quite uncommon, but leaves a severe mental disorder in which children interpret reality abnormally. Schizophrenia involves a range of problems with thinking (cognitive), behaviour or emotions. It may result in some combination of hallucinations, delusions, and extremely disordered thinking that impairs your child’s ability to function.

Childhood schizophrenia is essentially the same as in adults, but it occurs early in life and has a profound impact on a child’s behaviour and development. With childhood schizophrenia, the early age of onset presents special challenges for diagnosis, treatment, education, and emotional and social development.

As per the World Health Organisation (WHO), schizophrenia is chronic and severe mental disorder affecting over 21 million people worldwide. It affects approximately 1 per cent of the population. This disorder can affect any gender and at any age, but the most common age of its onset is between 15 and 25 years


It is a chronic condition that requires lifelong treatment. Identifying and starting treatment for childhood schizophrenia as early as possible may significantly improve your child’s long-term outcome. “It involves a range of problems with thinking, behaviour or emotions. Signs and symptoms may vary, but usually involve delusions, hallucinations or disorganised speech, and reflect an impaired ability to function. The effect can be disabling,” said a doctor. Dr Pritam Chandak said the symptoms of schizophrenia generally starts in mid-to-late 20s. It’s uncommon for children to be diagnosed with schizophrenia. Early-onset schizophrenia occurs before 18 years of age. Very early-onset schizophrenia in children younger than age 13 is extremely rare.

Also Read: The never-end challenge of living with schizophrenia

“Symptoms can vary in type and severity over time, with periods of worsening and remission of symptoms. Some symptoms may always be present. Schizophrenia can be difficult to recognise in the early phases. The schizophrenia symptoms in teenagers are similar to those in adults, but the condition may be more difficult to recognise in during that age group,” added Dr Chandak.

It is also characterised by distortions in thinking, perception, emotions, language, sense of self and behaviour. Some common experiences include hallucinations — hearing voices or seeing things that are not there and delusions — fixed, false beliefs. Worldwide, schizophrenia is associated with considerable disability and may affect educational and occupational performance. People suffering from schizophrenia often have additional mental disorders like depression, anxiety disorders, and substance use disorders.

The factors that are responsible for this mental illness are environmental and genetic factors. Some environmental factors may include certain infections and lack of nutrition during pregnancy. Genetic factors include a variety of rare and common genetic variants. Experts say that schizophrenia is also a result of chemical imbalances in the brain. Dopamine, a neurotransmitter, is involved in the onset of schizophrenia. Imbalance of some other neurotransmitters such as serotonin can also lead to schizophrenia.

Early signs and symptoms

The earliest indications of childhood schizophrenia may include developmental problems, such as:

Language delays
Late or unusual crawling
Late walking
Other abnormal motor behaviors — for example, rocking or arm flapping
Some of these signs and symptoms are also common in children with pervasive developmental disorders, such as autism spectrum disorder. So ruling out these developmental disorders is one of the first steps in diagnosis.