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Ask the Mental Health Expert Archives 2001-2004

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Schizophrenia in Children

Q. What is the youngest reported case study of male schizophrenia? My son started hearing voices at 7-years-old but wasn't diagnosed until 2 months before his 10th birthday. How many case studies are being done on young children?

A. I can't say with certainty what the record is with respect to early age of onset in schizophrenia. However, I can tell you that schizophrenia has been diagnosed as early as age 6. In one study of childhood onset schizophrenia, age at onset ranged from 6 to 14 years, with a mean onset of about 12 years. There was no clear gender difference in age of onset (Eggers & Bunk, Schizophr Bull 1997;23(1):105-17).

In this study, an early age at onset was correlated with high social disability scores. Childhood-onset schizophrenia (with an onset of psychosis by age 12) is a rare and severe form of the disorder which appears to be clinically and neurobiologically continuous with the adult-onset disorder, according to work done at the Child Psychiatry Branch of the National Institute of Mental Health (R. Nicolson et al, Brain Res Brain Res Rev 2000 Mar;31(2-3):147-56).

I'm sure your son's illness has been difficult not only for him, but for your entire family. But there is hope: there are new medications being investigated for this disorder, and you may want to contact the help line of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI), 800-950-NAMI, for information about support groups, experts in your area, etc.

You could also write directly to Dr. R. Nicolson, c/o Child Psychiatry Branch, National Institute of Mental Health, 10 Center Drive MSC 1600, Bethesda, MD, USA. I hope things improve for your son.

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May 2002

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