Teen psychotic disorders are characterized by episodes of psychotic behavior, further characterized into subtypes as per several specific factors. Psychotic behavior is any behavior effectively removed from reality, wherein a person’s actions are influenced and determined by erroneous and irrational thinking, rather than the truth of what’s happening around them.
Young adults (late high school and early college years) are the age group most likely to experience their first episode of psychosis, also known as a psychotic break.
Brief Psychotic Disorder - Characterized by quick onset of symptoms. Quick, in this case, means that the psychotic break is over within less than a month, and recovery usually takes no longer than a few weeks. It’s common for brief psychotic breaks to occur after especially traumatic experiences, such as the loss of a loved one.
Delusional Disorder - Characterized by the presence of one single consistent delusion, lasting for longer than a month. Delusions are different from psychosis, but functionally similar. While a psychosis is a break from reality, like an auditory hallucination, a delusion is not sensory but emotional, wherein a person strongly believes something to be true even when it isn’t, such as being convinced of a personal conspiracy, or struggling with severe paranoia.
Shared Psychotic Disorder - Characterized by two people (usually in a close relationship) sharing one delusion. This usually occurs between two people with more and less dominating personalities. The more dominant person will have more symptoms of the overall illness, whereas the less dominant person will often only have the delusion. This is also known as folie à deux, or “madness of two”.
Schizophrenia - Characterized by such severe hallucinations, delusions, and related behaviors, that they prohibit normal functioning and activities. Some people mistake schizophrenia for a dissociative identity disorder, but schizophrenia is completely separate diagnosis. Teens with this illness are often very suspicious of treatment and are reluctant to seek treatment. It’s important to understand that psychotic disorders are generally seen to be on a spectrum, with schizophrenia being one end of said spectrum.
Schizoaffective Disorder - Characterized by a person having a break with reality, as well as persistent mood disturbances. Schizoaffective disorder can be seen as a combination between the symptoms of schizophrenia and depression or manic depression/bipolar.
Anything that suggests a break from reality – experiencing the world with a distorted perception – counts as a form of psychosis. More than a disorder, psychosis occurs across a wide spectrum of possible diagnoses, and it’s important to see a person as a whole individual struggling with their own unique set of symptoms, rather than any given blank slate outfitted with the textbook variables of a specific disorder. Part of the individuality of these disorders is the fact that the causes can be complex and differing, from physical, to psychological, for environmental reasons, or due to genetics.
Physical illness – a hit to the head, a brain tumor, or any other physical trauma to the brain can cause psychotic symptoms including sensory distortions and hallucination. These may be temporary, or they may go away after the cause is identified and treated.
Family history – a greater genetic risk for psychosis implies that there’s a higher likelihood it’ll happen again. Meaning, if there’s a family history of schizophrenia, psychotic breaks or delusions, then there’s a higher chance of developing a disorder along the same spectrum. That chance is not a guarantee, and the odds are still quite low. Why these disorders are genetically inherited is not completely understood, but it may have something to do with unique brain structures.
Substance use – drugs are inherently psychoactive, meaning they alter the way the mind works temporarily, or over a long period of use and misuse. Some drugs are hallucinogenic, and although these drugs typically aren’t addictive, they can be potentially harmful over very long periods of time or in a non-clinical setting.
Psychosis by proxy – much like how a dominant partner can gaslight their submissive partner into believing things that aren’t real, a dominant partner in a power-imbalanced relationship may convince their loved one that their delusions or psychosis are reality. This is a rare occurrence, but it has happened enough to be documented and researched.
of the worldwide population suffers from a psychotic disorder
adolescents and young adults in the US suffer a first psychotic break every year
Americans have schizophrenia
Maintain a healthy relationship of trust – trust is critical when it comes to helping your teen confront psychotic or delusional symptoms, particularly when they’re struggling with a disorder along this spectrum. These are disorders that are based around challenging a teen’s perception of reality, and this means that their ability to trust others will be deeply and fundamentally hurt, and potentially eroded. Take care to properly express your love and support for your teen and look into ways to avoid using language that might alienate you, or make your teen suspect you’re mocking them or misunderstanding their disorder.
Help identify triggers – sometimes, teens are more prone to struggle with delusions due to certain environmental factors, including instances or conversations that trigger them into deepening their belief in a delusional thought or psychotic episode. Helping them identify and stay away from such triggers can be helpful during recovery, so they have the time and ability to develop a stronger mental barrier against such things.
Encourage your teen to challenge beliefs – it’s likely that your teen’s therapy will be built around the facets of CBT, or cognitive behavioral therapy. This is a therapy method that involves helping teens separate rational from irrational thoughts, and challenge their irrational thinking, identifying negativity and replacing it with constructive, grounded positivity. More than just affirmation, this helps teens actively challenge their disorder. Your support will be critical in helping your teen recall and apply the lessons learned during therapy at home.
Teen psychotic disorder treatment varies wildly from person to person, depending on the psychotic disorder, the severity of their symptoms, their circumstances, willingness to seek treatment, and various other factors. In most cases, antipsychotic medication will be prescribed to help treat the delusional symptoms which the teen is experiencing. Depending on the severity of the disorder, it may be difficult to get teens to cooperate and take their medication. Patience and regular therapy sessions are important in order to build up the right amount of trust and convince teens that their symptoms are in fact the result of a mental health problem, and not a conspiracy.
Some of the most common antipsychotics prescribed for psychotic disorders include Serequel, Clozaril, Zyprexa, and Risperdal. Ideally, antipsychotic medication is a temporary way for doctors to help reduce the severity of the symptoms while they last within a specific episode.
However, if the disorder is chronic and severe enough, medication may be a requirement for day-to-day living. In certain cases, especially for teens struggling with schizoaffective disorder, other types of medication may be important to help manage different symptoms, such as suicidal ideation and depressive thinking.
Talk therapy for the teen psychotic disorder treatment will incorporate a number of different approaches, including group sessions and family sessions. Some of the most important aspects of therapy are recognizing and addressing any potentially dangerous hallucinations or delusions, in order to protect the teen, and possibly others, from potential harm.
Then, therapists work with teens to discuss what the teens are experiencing, provide a safe environment with which to evaluate their behavior and come to the realization that there are inconsistencies in their perception of reality, and then implement behaviors and techniques towards recovery.
If stress is a major factor for the occurrence of certain symptoms, it’s not unlikely for many therapists and doctors to recommend alternative treatments and stress management techniques to help teens cope with stress in a healthy way before their symptoms flare up or worsen.
Plenty of different treatment methods can be applied, but the most effective ones are the ones that teens themselves find to help, making it important to try a variety of different treatments. Everything from music therapy, yoga, acupuncture, massage therapy, sports and exercise are valid.
Here at Paradigm Malibu, teen psychotic disorder treatment depends on the individual. We approach each case with a holistic mentality, meaning we analyze a teen’s life to help us (and them) determine what changes need to be made in order to help recover from their disorder and live a better life. No two cases are exactly the same, and that’s why it’s important to give each individual enough care and attention to figure out the best way to help them.
A Safe Place
Paradigm Malibu offers several locations in the Malibu area, each one offering something unique, but all of them built on providing a healing experience. Programs are short, but effective, designed to help lay the foundation for further treatment at home, helping both teens and their family learn more about a given diagnosis and how to live with it.
Programs involve a handful of teens, treated together through differing programs and therapies developed by the capable staff at each Paradigm Malibu location. From group meetings to individual talk therapy and dedicated alternative treatments, every teen is given a program uniquely suited to their circumstances, while having the opportunity to get to know other teens going through something similar or completely different, albeit often struggling with similar stigmas and issues in school or among friends.
My son went to this program. It was INCREDIBLE!!! We were able to get him on track with communicating better and teaching him that drugs are not part of his future. He feels more and more empowered each time he says NO! His communication skills with our family has improved greatly. We appreciate knowing we can always go to Paradigm for help if needed! Their family support is top notch. Working the program with your child is the best way to heal the pain and miscommunication. I personally feel they deserve higher than 5 stars!
– Wendy M.
How is schizophrenia diagnosed?
Schizophrenia is predicted through a variety of factors that suggest the possibility of onset schizophrenia, including social withdrawal and disorganized speech. For a teen to be diagnosed, their behavior is monitored for at least a month and evaluated based on recurring symptoms such as delusional thinking, sensory hallucinations, catatonic behavior, and more. If symptoms are severe enough, such as having several converging voices significantly influence behavior, then the diagnosis is more straightforward.
What if I’ve only had one hallucination or delusion, so I’m not ready to be diagnosed or get treatment?
It’s important to understand that a diagnosis is not a bad thing, and that psychosis often appears along a spectrum. One episode of psychosis may be all you’re going to experience in your lifetime, or it may be a sign of other things to come. If the latter is a possibility, it is critical to get yourself checked out by a mental health professional. If caught early on and managed properly, these disorders can be controlled, and a normal life is more than possible.
Whether or not you get diagnosed, a true episode of hallucination or delusional thinking is still a sign that something is wrong. Not getting help just puts you at greater risk of increasingly dangerous symptoms, including the potential of hurting yourself or others. It’s not worth waiting until things get worse to get treated. If you suspect something is wrong, get help immediately.