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Schizophrenia is one of the most complex of all mental health disorders. It is a severe, chronic, and disabling disturbance of the brain that causes distorted thinking, strange feelings, unusual behavior and word and language use.

Schizophrenia causes

Although there is no known single cause of schizophrenia, it is believed that a chemical imbalance in the brain is an inherited factor that is necessary for the condition to develop.

Many other factors may also play a role in the development of schizophrenia, including genetics, behavior and environment.

Many factors can lead to schizophrenia being inherited, and they are usually both genetic and environmental. This means that a combination of genes from both parents, in addition to other unknown environmental factors, can lead to schizophrenia.

More males develop schizophrenia in childhood, but by adolescence the condition affects males and females equally. 

Who is affected by schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia is uncommon in children under the age of 12 and hard to identify in the early phases. A sudden onset of the psychotic symptoms of schizophrenia frequently occurs in middle to late adolescence.

Children born into families with one or more members affected by schizophrenia have a greater chance of developing the condition than children born into families with no history of the disease.

After a person has been diagnosed with schizophrenia in a family, the chance for a sibling to also be diagnosed with schizophrenia is 10 percent. If a parent has schizophrenia, the chance for a child to have the disorder is 10 percent. Risks increase with multiple affected family members.

Schizophrenia affects approximately 1 percent of all Americans. 

Schizophrenia symptoms

Behavioral changes in children with schizophrenia may occur slowly over time or have a sudden onset. Although every child experiences symptoms differently, some early warning signs of schizophrenia may include:

  • Difficulty telling dreams from reality

  • Confused thinking, for example, confusing television with reality

  • Detailed and bizarre thoughts and ideas

  • Suspiciousness and/or paranoia

  • Seeing, hearing or feeling things that are not real, such as hearing voices

  • Delusions, or having ideas not based in reality

  • Extreme moodiness

  • Severe anxiety and/or fearfulness

  • Lack of emotional expression when speaking

  • Difficulty in performing schoolwork and/or a decline in previous levels of academic achievement 

  • Social withdrawal

  • Disorganized or catatonic behavior 

  • Odd behaviors, such as an older child suddenly regressing

The symptoms of schizophrenia in children are similar to adults, however, children more often experience auditory hallucinations and typically do not experience delusions or formal thought disorders until mid-adolescence or older.

Schizophrenia symptoms may resemble other problems or psychiatric conditions. Always consult your child's healthcare provider for a diagnosis.


Schizophrenia in children and adolescents is usually diagnosed by a child and adolescent psychiatrist. Other mental health professionals usually participate in the completion of a comprehensive mental health evaluation to determine individualized treatment needs.

Schizophrenia treatment

Specific treatment for schizophrenia will be determined by your child's healthcare provider based on:

  • Your child's age, overall health, and medical history

  • Extent of the condition

  • Type of schizophrenia

  • Your child's tolerance for specific medications or therapies

  • Expectations for the course of the condition

  • Your opinion or preference

Schizophrenia is a major psychiatric illness and its treatment is complex. A combination of therapies is often necessary to meet the individualized needs of the child or adolescent with schizophrenia. Treatment is aimed at reducing the symptoms associated with the disorder.

Types of treatment that may be helpful to a child or adolescent with schizophrenia may include:

  • Medications to reduce the symptoms of schizophrenia, including antipsychotic medications and mood stabilizers

  • Individual and family psychotherapy (including supportive, cognitive and behavioral therapy)

  • Specialized educational and/or structured activity programs (for example, social skills training, vocational training, speech and language therapy)

  • Self-help and support groups

Prevention of schizophrenia

Preventive measures to reduce the incidence of schizophrenia are not known.

Identification and early intervention can improve the quality of life experienced by children and adolescents with schizophrenia.

Further, treatment is most successful when symptoms of the first psychotic episode are addressed properly and promptly. It is crucial for a child or teen who is prescribed medications for the treatment of schizophrenia to remain adherent to the regimen. Dosages and types of medications may need to be adjusted periodically to maintain effectiveness.

Always consult your child's healthcare provider for more information.

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