Although no parent wants to imagine that their teen may have a mental illness, psychosis can occur during adolescence. Knowing the signs of psychosis in adolescence is crucial for early intervention. Unfortunately, most adults with psychosis say their parents don’t recognize the warning signs. According to a 2011 survey by the National Alliance on Mental Illness, only 18.2 per cent of people with psychosis say their parents noticed signs of a mental illness and intervened. Many parents rely on medical providers to identify symptoms of mental illness or psychosis. But, only 4.5 per cent of people with psychosis say health professionals recognized their symptoms.
Early treatment can slow, stop, or even reverse the effects of psychosis. That’s why it’s important for parents to be informed about what to look for and how to get help.
What is Psychosis
Psychosis involves a disruption in a person’s thoughts and perceptions that make it difficult for them to distinguish between what is real and what is not. Psychosis is a symptom, however, and not a diagnosis. It comes in varying degrees. While some people may experience only mild impairment, others struggle with activities of daily living because of their symptoms.
Psychosis generally stems from various psychiatric conditions, although there are certain medical and neurological conditions that can also present with psychosis. These are often evaluated and ruled out before a psychiatric diagnosis is made.
Also check out: What is Psychosis? – Symptoms, treatment, risk factors
Some types of psychosis
Schizophrenia – Adolescents with schizophrenia show changes in their behaviour. They may have hallucinations or delusions and their symptoms are likely to affect their education and their relationships.
Schizoaffective disorder – Schizoaffective disorder occurs when a person may present with major symptoms of bipolar disorder or depression, as well as schizophrenia.
Schizophreniform disorder – Schizophreniform disorder includes symptoms of schizophrenia but has a limited duration. Symptoms have only been present between one and six months.
Brief psychotic disorder – Sometimes, people experience periods of sudden psychosis. It is often related to a stressful life event, such as the loss of a loved one. Symptoms usually disappear in less than a month.
Substance-induced psychotic disorder—Adolescents with severe substance abuse problems may experience hallucinations or delusions in the context of their substance use.
Mental disorders due to another medical condition – Psychoses can sometimes be influenced by a physical health condition, a brain tumour, or a head injury.
Mood disorders – psychosis may be present in some presentations of major depression and bipolar disorders.
Early warning sign
Sudden psychosis, in the case of a brief psychotic disorder, is relatively uncommon. For example, most people with schizophrenia display symptoms of psychosis for months or years before ever being diagnosed.
Adolescents with psychosis begin to touch with certain aspects of reality. But the symptoms may appear for some time, and then disappear. So parents may dismiss the symptoms as a phase or assume that their teen is better when the symptoms are gone. But, just because a teen doesn’t actively show symptoms, doesn’t mean there isn’t a problem.
The early warning symptoms of psychosis can be similar to signs of depression or other mental illnesses. It can include:
- Loss of interest in personal hygiene
- loss of interest in normal activities
- mood swings
- abnormal movements
- cold, detached seat
- inability to express feelings
- Problems in school and difficulty maintaining relationships
Symptoms of Psychosis in teens
A teen who is experiencing psychosis may feel scared, embarrassed, or confused. For as long as possible, it is common for teens to try to hide their symptoms or hide some of the warning signs. Symptoms of psychosis vary from person to person. That’s why it’s important to closely monitor changes in a teen’s mood or behaviour.
Psychosis may include hallucinations. Auditory hallucinations are the most common type of hallucination. A teen may hear sounds that tell him what to do, warn him of danger, or the sounds may simply sound like background noise. Some teens report that this sound comes from their brain, but others feel as though they are hearing sounds from people around them that are not present. Teens with hallucinations may also report feeling physical sensations that are not really there. A teen with tactile hallucinations may say that he feels spiders crawling on him or that someone is holding him on his shoulder.
Teens experiencing delusions have corrected false beliefs that are inconsistent with their culture. A teen may believe that the government is controlling his behaviour through TV or he may think that someone is trying to poison him. Even when there is no evidence that a belief is not true, teens maintain their delusions. You’ll be able to let go of the illusion your teen is thinking differently or not telling the truth.
Sometimes teens with psychosis may exhibit disorganized or confused speech. They can get confused or form meaningless words at times. His sentences are sometimes incomprehensible. Psychosis causes difficulty thinking clearly, difficulty concentrating, and restlessness relating to others.
Treatment of Psychosis in teens
There is no cure for psychosis. But, treatment is available to manage the symptoms. And the sooner a teen gets help, the better the outcome is likely to be. Family intervention is important for adolescents with psychosis. Studies show that parental involvement can be highly protective against relapse. Family interventions may include psycho-analysis, communication skills training, and problem-solving. Creating a supportive home environment and learning to support a teen’s efforts can be good in its recovery.
Parents also benefit from learning how to accommodate expectations in the home. For example, a teen with psychosis may not be able to raise younger siblings or stay home alone for long periods of time. When a teen develops psychosis, parents often experience a fair amount of guilt and anxiety. Treatment with a mental health professional can help parents address those feelings in a healthy way.
Adolescent girls can also benefit from medication. Antipsychotic medication can help balance certain brain chemicals that contribute to hallucinations, delusions, and disorganized thinking. Individual therapy can also be an important part of a person’s treatment for psychosis. Cognitive-behavioural therapy with a trained mental health professional can help a teen deal with the stress and challenges that stem from psychosis.
It is important for teens with psychosis to be educated about their illness. A teen who understands his symptoms will be better equipped to deal with the issues he faces.
Life skills training may also be part of the treatment. A teen may need social skills training to help him interact with peers in a socially appropriate manner, or he may need help with daily activities such as bathing and preparing meals. Psychosis in teens is not something that can’t be repaired, all you need to do is be patient.
If you notice any signs of psychosis in your teen, seek professional help immediately. Talk to your teen doctor about your concerns. Your teen may be referred to a mental health professional, like a psychiatrist or psychologist, for further evaluation.
Feature Image credits: Venture Academy