Schizophrenia, and other mental disorders, should only be diagnosed by a medical doctor, clinical psychologist, or trained health professional who has spent time with the teenager and has conducted a proper mental health assessment. Diagnoses are complicated with many nuances. Please do not attempt to diagnose someone based on the symptoms you read in magazines or on the internet. If you are concerned, speak to a trained health professional.

Many young people with Schizophrenia will demonstrate a slow and gradual onset of the illness (often over the period of 6-9 months or more). This is called a prodrome.

The prodrome includes:

  • Social withdrawal
  • Odd behaviours
  • Lack of attention to personal hygiene
  • Excessive preoccupation with religious or philosophical constructs
  • Focus on bizarre ideas
  • Complaints of being persecuted by others
  • Abuse of substances – particularly alcohol and marijuana
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Flattened mood, decreased speech

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It can sometimes be difficult to distinguish the onset of Schizophrenia from other mental disorders, such as Depression, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, or Social Anxiety Disorder. To be diagnosed with Schizophrenia, the person must have experienced symptoms for at least 6 months (e.g., delusions, hallucinations, disorganized speech, abnormal motor behaviour, or negative symptoms), including at least one month of delusions, hallucinations, or disorganized speech. These problems cause severe dysfunction in one or more areas of his or her daily life (social, family, interpersonal, school/work) and are not the result of using a substance (i.e., getting high) or of another medical condition.

It’s important to note that believing or sensing something that other people do not is not always a sign of Schizophrenia. We can all believe things that other people do not – whether it’s that a higher power exists, that an old house is haunted, that the government is monitoring our internet use, or something else entirely. Age-appropriate or culturally-appropriate beliefs are not considered delusions. The same is true for hallucinations. If you can hear your neighbour’s conversation on the other side of the wall but someone standing on the other side of the room cannot – you are not “hearing voices” (e.g., a hallucination). A child’s imaginary friend is also not a hallucination. Age-appropriate displays of imagination are not hallucinations. A hallucination is when something is experienced through your senses (sound, sight, smell) that is not there. Delusions and hallucinations are diagnosed when people believe or sense something despite many other people giving evidence that the belief or sensory perception does not exist.

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