How Common is Psychosis in Children?

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  • Written By: Erin J. Hill
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 26 August 2019
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The number of children who suffer from a psychotic disorder is extremely hard to pinpoint. Psychosis in children can be mistaken for a variety of other things, including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism, or even a normal stage of development. Most disorders, primarily schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, are thought to begin mostly in adulthood. Although childhood onset of these conditions is recognized, it is believed to be a relatively rare event, although many children are likely misdiagnosed or not diagnosed at all.

It was once believed that psychosis in children was extremely rare. Treatments are primarily tailored to adult sufferers, although it is recognized that the number of cases diagnosed in young children and adolescents is on the rise. In fact, up to seven percent of all children being treated in a psychiatric hospital is thought to have a psychotic disorder. Bipolar disorder is the most common, although children have been known to suffer from schizophrenia and other disorders as well.


Many cases of psychosis in children are misdiagnosed as ADHD or autism, because children who suffer from mental disorders often exhibit many of the same symptoms. Other children may not be diagnosed with anything at all because during childhood it is common for kids to exhibit behaviors that would not be suitable in adults. Diagnosis is sometimes not made until a child fails to grow out of such behaviors. For instance, a child who talks to imaginary people may be considered normal, although this is sometimes a sign of schizophrenia.

There is a major difference in the illusions created by a normal child and the hallucinations experienced by one who is schizophrenic. The healthy child controls his images, develops their personalities, and the imaginary friends only do what he wants them to do. Those of the schizophrenic child are beyond his control, and may even tell him to do things that he does not want to do.

Psychosis in children is relatively uncommon, however, even with misdiagnosed and under-diagnosed children factored in. The average age for onset of symptoms is usually late teens through the early thirties, depending on the disorder. Children may exhibit some strange behaviors early on, though, which may escalate into psychosis later in life. Whether or not warning signs can be noticed and then treated with early interventions is not fully understood.



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