The experience of psychosis is most easily described as one of a detachment from reality. Individuals who are experiencing psychosis may have delusions, which means that they will believe things to be true that are not, or hallucinations, which means that they will see things that are not really there, or both. Often feelings of acute paranoia accompany these symptoms, resulting in a fearful existence for teens who struggle with these experiences. What must be understood, however, is that teens who are going through a psychotic episode have no knowledge of the disconnect from reality that will be obvious to others who are witnessing the event.
Psychotic symptoms can be triggered by a myriad of conditions and circumstances, and are often the result of mental health conditions, such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, which typically have a later onset and are not often diagnosed until early adulthood. However, teens and adolescents who begin showing signs of psychosis are said to be exhibiting what experts refer to as prodromal symptoms, or weak symptoms of psychosis.
It is believed that early detection of prodromal symptoms can result in a teen being connected with interventions that can help stave off the worsening of these symptoms, and may prevent the full-blown manifestation of psychosis later in life. Therefore, if a teen in your life begins displaying concerning behaviors that lead you to believe that he or she may be experiencing psychosis, it is imperative that you connect him or her with a mental health professional who can conduct a thorough evaluation.
While the overall rate of psychosis is low compared to other more common conditions, such as depression and anxiety, studies have shown that between 30 and 40 percent of teens who exhibit prodromal symptoms go on to develop schizophrenia as adults, one of the most severe types of disorders which features psychosis. This data points to the importance of early detection and intervention for teens who are beginning to show signs of mild psychosis.
Causes and Risk Factors for Psychosis
As is the case with many other mental and behavioral disorders, a teen’s risk for experiencing psychosis may be affected by several genetic and environmental factors, including the following:
Genetic: Studies have identified a genetic link between family members who develop mental health conditions that include psychotic features. Therefore, individuals who have close relatives with a diagnosis of certain mental health conditions, such as schizophrenia, are more likely to develop the condition.
Physical: Some experts point to organic medical conditions like metabolic imbalances, renal disease, neurological conditions, endocrine disorders, and autoimmune disorders as contributors to the onset of episodes of psychosis.
Environmental: Sometimes trauma, chaos, and extreme amounts of stress and change can serve to trigger periods of short-term psychosis. This experience includes an abrupt onset and eventual resolution, and is referred to as brief psychotic disorder.
- Suffering from significantly impaired social functioning
- Having recently given birth
- Being exposed to toxic substances
- Experiencing severe trauma
- Substance abuse or addiction
- Having a mental health disorder
- Exposed to more negative life events
- Having a family history of psychiatric disorders
Signs and Symptoms of Psychosis
Teens are known to have abrupt shifts in mood and at times their behavior, while developmentally appropriate, may seem somewhat bizarre to adults. However, teens who are experiencing psychosis will exhibit severe symptoms that will undoubtedly prompt concern from others. If a teen in your life begins demonstrating any of the signs and symptoms listed below, professional help should be sought.
- Self-harming behaviors
- Disorganized behavior
- Bizarre and/or inappropriate behaviors
- Shakes or tremors
- Disorganized speech
- Neglecting personal hygiene
- Hallucinations and delusions
- Extreme paranoia
- Inability to make decisions
- Thoughts of suicide
- Not responding to external stimuli
- Social withdrawal
- Being overly emotional or being incapable of showing any emotion
- Losing interest in things one used to enjoy
Effects of Psychosis
Teens who do not receive support to help them manage the symptoms of psychosis will likely experience a worsening of their condition over time. Whatever mental health disorder contributed to the onset of symptoms will continue to produce a variety of damaging effects including the following:
- Academic failure
- Social isolation
- Substance addiction
- Decreased ability to carry out activities of daily living
- Violent behaviors
- Suicidal thoughts and behaviors
Teens who begin to display prodromal or weak psychotic symptoms are at risk for developing a full-blown psychotic disorder, in addition to several other co-occurring mental health disorders, including the following:
- Schizoaffective disorder
- Bipolar disorder
- Certain forms of dementia
- Substance Abuse