Why parents should watch for symptoms of schizophrenia in adult children

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WATCH: High-profile not criminally responsible (NCR) cases in Canada have brought schizophrenia to the public’s attention. So what do parents need to watch for in order to make sure their adult children get help as soon as possible? Heather Yourex-West explains – Apr 6, 2017

Looking back now, 28-year-old Josh Evers believes he first experienced symptoms of schizophrenia when he was just a child. But it was in his early 20s when things got really bad.

“It wasn’t until I started hearing voices, when I was 23, that I realized that I need help,” he said.

At the time, Evers was living on his own and away from his parents. His mother Carla says she had no idea anything was wrong.

“I hadn’t really seen it. I was on the outside and he appeared normal to me. It was his friend at the time that saw all these odd behaviours and when (Josh) took too many pills, that’s when I became involved.”

Evers says he didn’t intend to attempt suicide when he took several sleeping pills one day, he just wanted to quiet the voices and get some sleep. Still, it was the wake-up call his family needed in order to access help.

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Schizophrenia is a serious mental illness that impacts 300,000 Canadians, according to the Schizophrenia Society of Canada. People suffering from the disease have difficulty thinking clearly, managing their emotions or distinguishing reality from delusion. Symptoms usually begin in late adolescence or early adulthood.

“The mean age for men is around about 23 or 24; for women, it’s a little later, 27 or 28,” said Dr. Donald Addington, a psychiatrist at the University of Calgary.

Parents can often miss the first signs of illness because their adult children are living outside the home. Addington says treatment is usually more successful if started early in the disease’s onset, so cluing in quickly is critical.

“Things can begin slowly and gradually get worse or things can erupt rather suddenly out of the blue.”

Addington says a young person experiencing psychosis may at first appear withdrawn or depressed. Later on, they may appear paranoid, have disorganized thoughts or experience hallucinations or delusions.

Soon after Evers was diagnosed with schizophrenia, Carla remembers her son acting childlike.

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“One day he was so scared to be alone and when I came over to where he was living at the time, he took all the cushions off the couches and made himself a little fort.”

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Fortunately for the Evers, Josh wanted help and entered treatment programs willingly. He spent several years receiving treatment in Calgary, undergoing cognitive behavioural therapy and working with a psychiatrist.  He’s also on medication.

Today, he says he feels in control of his illness and is hopeful about the future.

“You have to put in the effort, because if you don’t put in the effort, you’re not going to get better.”