It’s rare that teens experience psychosis. However, if they are prone to schizophrenia or another psychotic disorder, late adolescence is when a teen may have a psychotic break. In fact, when teens have a psychotic break, many recover from it and never experience psychosis again. However, for those who do experience it, it can be incredibly frightening.
Fortunately, although it’s a scary experience, it can be treated and teens can be monitored to ensure their safety if another experience of psychosis happens again. Psychosis is considered to be an experience of the mind (psyche) characterized by the loss of contact with reality and including either hallucinations or delusions. A hallucination is a form of sensory experience that others cannot perceive. In other words, it could be an experience of hearing voices or seeing things that others don’t see. Delusions, on the other hand, are false beliefs that might be shaped by paranoia, such as “The FBI is after my family.” These false beliefs continue to exist despite evidence that disproves the belief. It is important to keep in mind that both delusions and hallucinations should be considered within a cultural context. For example, within the Native American culture, it is considered normal to hear the voice of a deceased relative.
It’s important to note that psychosis itself is not a disorder. There are psychological illnesses that have psychosis as a symptom. When a teen experiences psychosis and recovers, he or she is known to have brief psychotic disorder. Teen Brief Psychotic Disorder is the experience of sudden, short periods of psychotic behavior, often in response to a very stressful event, such as a death in the family. Recovery is often quick, usually less than a month. At times, psychosis does not have an identifiable cause. In these cases, there are no apparent traumas or related experiences of loss or disaster. For women, a brief psychotic episode might take place right after giving birth. Within 4 weeks of having a baby, females are might experience hallucinations, delusions, or other symptoms of a psychotic episode. However, psychosis is not necessarily the result of extreme stress; it’s important to know that a psychotic break might be the first indication of another psychotic disorder such as schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder.
Psychosis can feel unmanageable, alarming, and confusing. In addition to having hallucinations and delusions, other symptoms of a psychotic episode are disorganized thinking, disorganized speech, unusual behavior or dress, confusion, disturbances in memory, indecisiveness, and changes in weight, sleep, and/or eating habits.
If you are concerned about your child, typical and early warning signs of psychosis are 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.
If a teen experiences these symptoms, it is likely that he or she 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.
Regardless of whether you see these warning signs or not, if you have any feeling or indication that your teen might be prone to psychosis, take him or her to see a psychologist and do not wait to schedule a psychological evaluation for assessment. When you involve a mental health professional, you provide the safety and support your child needs.
“First Episodes of Psychosis” National Alliance on Mental Illness. Retrieved on June 10, 2014 from: http://www.nami.org/Content/NavigationMenu/First_Episode/About.htm
By Robert Hunt
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