What Are the Causes of Psychosis in Adolescence?

C. Webb
C. Webb
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Man with hands on his hips

Psychosis in adolescence is typically caused by severe mental illness. Warning signs of schizophrenia, the most serious of all mental illnesses, usually appear in males who are approximately 17 years old. Other possible causes of psychosis in adolescence include severe bipolar disorder and illicit drug use. Treatment for adolescent psychosis depends on the cause.

Symptoms of psychosis include disorganized speech patterns in addition to visual or auditory hallucinations. For a diagnosis of schizophrenia, symptoms must be present for at least six months. In addition, they should not be attributable to other causes.

About one percent of the population is affected by schizophrenia, with the typical male onset appearing in adolescence. Female schizophrenia usually begins years later. Due to the serious and debilitating nature of schizophrenia, most schizophrenics are unable to live independently or hold jobs for most of their lives.

Mood disorders, including severe bipolar disorder, can also cause psychosis in adolescence. In addition to psychosis, an adolescent with severe bipolar disorder may display inflated self-esteem, ideas of grandiosity or the ability to accomplish the impossible, a decreased need for sleep, and racing thoughts. Psychosis is more common in bipolar adolescents than in bipolar adults.

Between 30 and 40 percent of those who show early warning signs of psychosis in adolescence will go on to develop psychotic disorders by the time they are in their 20s. Thirty-five percent of them will experience full and permanent remission, and 20 percent will have mild symptoms and not get worse. There is no accurate way to predict which adolescents with symptoms of psychosis will develop full-blown psychotic mental illness.

Antipsychotic drugs are used to help control psychosis in adolescence; however, the drugs come with serious side effects. While the cause of psychosis in adolescence is not known, some studies suggest stress hormones are significantly higher in teenagers with psychosis features. A study conducted by the American National Institute of Mental Health found changes in the stress hormone cortisol increased the risk of psychosis in adolescence.

Substance abuse can also cause psychotic episodes in adolescence. When psychosis in adolescence is caused by substance abuse, it is typically short-lived and easily diagnosed through a medical history and physical examination. The condition usually resolves itself when the drug leaves the body.

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