This article is the second in a series on teen schizophrenia, intending to break through general myths most people tend to have about the illness. In general, schizophrenia is a disorder that can frighten most people. Fear and judgment are common reactions to mental illness. However, this series intends to provide truth about schizophrenia so that it’s less frightening and more acceptable.
There are psychotic and non-psychotic types of people.
It’s common for the general public to categorize people as either being psychotic or not. However, symptoms for psychosis and schizophrenia tend to reside on a continuum. In fact, even those who are so-called normal, who do not have schizophrenic symptoms, can experience what could be considered a delusion or hallucination. For example, within the Native American culture, it is considered normal to hear the voice of a deceased relative. Another example: how often have you heard a song in your head that continues to play and that you can hear pretty clearly?
Schizophrenia develops quickly.
It’s rare that teens experience psychosis and it’s rare that there is a quick drop in functioning. What’s more common is that there are gradual signs such as a drop in grades or job performance, trouble thinking clearly or concentrating, suspiciousness or an uneasiness with others, decline in self-care or personal hygiene, spending a lot more time alone than usual, increased sensitivity to sights or sounds, mistaking noises for voices, unusual ideas, and having strange feelings or having no feelings at all.
Schizophrenia is purely genetic.
If teens are prone to schizophrenia or another psychotic disorder, late adolescence is when he or she may have a psychotic break. Research indicates that genetic disposition along with stress and family environment can trigger a psychotic episode, and a longer experience of schizophrenia. However, genes alone do not account for a psychotic episode.
Schizophrenia is untreatable.
Although schizophrenia is not curable, it is indeed treatable. Because there are various symptoms of the illness, it’s important to find the right treatment for a teen’s specific needs. Doing so makes the illness manageable and can facilitate a return to daily functioning.
Teens with schizophrenia need to be hospitalized.
Schizophrenia doesn’t mean hospitalization. Instead, a teen would be assessed medically to determine whether or not any physical ailments could be the cause. Regardless, a psychological assessment would be used to explore any co-existing mental illnesses. Once an adolescent is treated for a psychotic episode, it is important for a clinician to continue to monitor symptoms in the event that psychosis happens again, leading to diagnoses of other psychotic disorders. However, hospitalization does not need to be a part of the assessment or treatment of the illness, unless a teen proves to be dangerous to him/herself or others.
Teens with schizophrenia can’t lead productive lives.
This simply isn’t true. Those with schizophrenia can lead active and productive lives with the right treatment that addresses their unique symptoms and needs. In a 10-year study done by the New Hampshire Dual Diagnosis Study, those with schizophrenia who also had a substance abuse problem (which is true for about 50% of schizophrenic patients) were studied. The research found that 62.7% were able to control their symptoms, lead successful lives, and reduced their episodes of hospitalizations. 56.8% were living independently, 41.4% were employed, 48.9% were socially interacting with non-users of drugs, and 58.3% expressed overall life satisfaction.
Medication for schizophrenia makes people zombies.
Antipsychotics are typically used to treat psychotic symptoms and are the main form of treatment for teen schizophrenia. People tend to think that those who on medication are listless, lifeless, and lethargic. However, mostly, those symptoms are either from the illness itself or from over-medication. When the right treatment is provided, medication removes those symptoms and facilitates an active life.
Medication for schizophrenia is worse than the illness itself.
Medication removes potentially dangerous symptoms such as hallucinations and delusions. When taken appropriately, antipsychotics are safe and effective. For many, they have allowed teens and adults with schizophrenia to live normal lives.
Those with schizophrenia can’t ever have a normal life.
The opposite is true. Schizophrenia is an illness that can in fact reverse in time. Unlike dementia that gets worse, schizophrenia doesn’t have to be a life-long illness. Furthermore, with the right treatment, those with the illness can achieve normal and fulfilling lives.
This series is meant to break through the assumptions and myths the general public tends to have about schizophrenia.
Tartakovsky, M. (2010). Illuminating 13 Myths of Schizophrenia. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 6, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/lib/illuminating-13-myths-of-schizophrenia/0002709
By Robert Hunt
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Paradigm Malibu is an adolescent mental health and drug treatment center dedicated to identifying, understanding and properly treating the core issues that impact teens and their families.