Early Identification Key in Treating Schizophrenia
Jan. 28, 2009
Dr. David Prescott – Acadia Hospital
Why is Early Identification of Schizophrenia so Important? For many health and mental health problems, early detection and intervention is a key factor in limiting the impact of the disorder. For example, early identification of diabetes allows people to work on changing their diet so that they may not have to take insulin. Likewise, new research suggests that early identification of major mental illnesses like schizophrenia can allow people to receive treatment that limits the course of the disorder over a lifetime.
What is Schizophrenia? Schizophrenia is a mental illness that impacts about 1% of the population worldwide. The typical age of onset is in the late teens or early 20’s. Schizophrenia usually involves acute episodes of several days or weeks where a person may:
- Lose touch with reality
- Experience hallucinations or delusions,
- Be thinking in a very illogical manner, or speak in a disorganized fashion.
- Have difficulty paying attention or concentrating for more than a few moments.
Schizophrenia also involves periods of time when a person becomes very withdrawn, lacks motivation to carry out simple daily tasks, and often seems emotionally shut down. During this phase of the disorder, people seem emotionally absent or flat.
What are the Signs of Possible Early Schizophrenia? In hindsight, people are often able to see a number of “signs” that preceded a formal diagnosis of schizophrenia. These problems typically have characteristic patterns, which if identified correctly allow early treatment to change the life course of the disorder. Rather than hoping the problem will go away, it appears that in many cases the best approach is to begin counseling or medication before the disorder progresses.
Early signs of schizophrenia typically appear in pre-teen or early teen years. Professionals refer to this time as the “prodromal” phase of schizophrenia. Signs may include:
- Odd beliefs, like feeling that something or someone can control your thoughts
- Suspiciousness, such as feeling like others can read your mind or want to hurt you
- Hearing people’s voices when nobody is around.
- Becoming withdrawn from friends, family, or other peers.
- Difficulty with school work or a job.
What Help is Available in Identifying and Treating Early Schizophrenia? As with all mental health problems, seeing a licensed mental health professional like a psychologist, psychiatrist, or licensed social worker is critical. Early identification of any disorder is not an exact science, and even the most rigorous approach can be imperfect. However, there are a number of steps that can help people who appear to have early signs of schizophrenia. These include:
- Assessment Using Structured Interviews: Newly developed structured interviews can more accurately pinpoint who is at highest risk for schizophrenia.
- Counseling for individuals and families: Many people who are at risk for schizophrenia don’t initially want to go to counseling. However, counseling or psychotherapy can help them with things that matter most, such as getting along better with friends, adjusting to problems at school, and resolving conflicts which occur at home.
- Medication: In some cases, psychiatrists will recommend medications which can help people organize their thinking, have more energy, or feel more able to deal with stress.
- Education: Perhaps more than any other disorder, education about the signs, symptoms, and treatment for schizophrenia is critical in coping with the disorder.
For More Information:
Acadia Hospital: www.acadiahospital.org
National Alliance for the Mentally Ill: www.nami.org