Teen Schizophrenia: Positive, Negative, and Cognitive Symptoms

Schizophrenia is an illness that not only baffles the layperson, but even clinicians and researchers are still investigating the causes of this mental illness. The curiosity of most people has led to movies and books about those affected by schizophrenia, such as the recent film, A Beautiful Mind.


Schizophrenia affects thinking, feeling, movement, and behavior. It is a severe mental illness that can significantly affect a teen’s life. Its symptoms are clinically divided into three main categories: positive, negative, and cognitive. Typically, schizophrenia shows up in late adolescence. In order for a teen to be diagnosed with teen schizophrenia, the following symptoms must last longer than six months.


Positive Symptoms


These are those symptoms that become present and would not normally occur without the illness, such as certain sensations, beliefs, and behaviors. Typically, they are quite noticeable by others, particularly delusional beliefs or behavior that is in response to experiencing a hallucination. Positive symptoms include:

  • disturbances in thought
  • delusions
  • hallucinations
  • certain erratic feelings
  • changes in movement
  • unusual behavior


Psychosis makes up a major part of the positive symptoms. It is considered to be an experience of the mind (psyche) characterized by the loss of contact with reality and including either hallucinations or delusions. A hallucination is a form of sensory experience that others cannot perceive. In other words, it could be an experience of hearing voices or seeing things that others don’t see. Delusions, on the other hand, are false beliefs that might be shaped by paranoia, such as “The FBI is after my family.” These false beliefs continue to exist despite evidence that disproves the belief. It is important to keep in mind that both delusions and hallucinations should be considered within a cultural context. For example, within the Native American culture, it is considered normal to hear the voice of a deceased relative.

Negative Symptoms


These symptoms are the absence of certain abilities. These can include:

  • low energy
  • low motivation
  • poor social skills
  • little facial movements
  • less than lively physical movement


Although these might seem less significant than those listed above, a loss of energy and motivation can also have a significant impact on a teen’s life, particularly at this stage in life.


Cognitive Symptoms


These are symptoms that refer to difficulty with concentration and memory, such as:

  • disorganized thinking
  • slow thinking
  • difficulty understanding
  • poor concentration
  • poor memory
  • difficulty expressing thoughts
  • having a hard time integrating thoughts with feelings and behavior


If you are concerned about your child, typical and early warning signs of psychosis are:

  • a drop in grades or job performance
  • trouble thinking clearly or concentrating
  • suspiciousness or an uneasiness with others
  • decline in self-care or personal hygiene
  • spending a lot more time alone than usual
  • increased sensitivity to sights or sounds
  • mistaking noises for voices
  • unusual ideas
  • having strange feelings or having no feelings at all


Regardless of whether you see these warning signs of teen schizophrenia or not, if you have any feeling or indication that your teen might be prone to psychosis, take him or her to see a psychologist and do not wait to schedule a psychological evaluation for assessment. When you involve a mental health professional, you provide the safety and support your child needs. Learn more about symptoms and treatments of teen schizophrenia on this link.