Teens With Psychotic Illnesses Are More At Risk for Suicide

Having a psychological illness can be a frightening experience. Yet, unlike depression or anxiety or post traumatic stress disorder, the illness of psychosis is somehow in its own category. When an adult or teen is first diagnosed with a disorder of psychosis or a psychotic disorder, it is often a very scary experience.


Psychosis can feel unmanageable, alarming, and confusing. In addition to having hallucinations and delusions, a person might experience disorganized thinking, disorganized speech, unusual behavior, confusion, disturbances in memory, indecisiveness, and changes in weight, sleep, and/or eating habits.


However, it’s rare that teens experience psychosis. Yet, if a teen is prone to schizophrenia or another psychotic disorder, late adolescence is when a teen becomes vulnerable. In fact, when teens have a psychotic break, many recover from it and never experience psychosis again.


Yet, some adolescents don’t recover and are destined to live with the illness for the rest of their life. This doesn’t mean that treatment such as medication and therapy won’t help with the symptoms, but indeed a teenager may be faced with the weight of the illness throughout his or her life.


And this sort of realization may be playing a role in the suicide of psychotic teens. A recent study found that when there is a delay between diagnosis of a psychotic illness in teens and treatment, there is a greater risk for that teen to take his or her life.


In general, those with psychosis are more at risk for suicide anyway. According to the study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association – Psychiatry in 2013, 20 percent to 40 percent of those diagnosed with psychosis attempt suicide, and up to 10 percent succeed. And, sadly, teens with psychotic symptoms are nearly 70 times more likely to attempt suicide than adolescents in the general population.


The study found that within the first six months of being diagnosed with a psychotic illness, teens are more vulnerable to attempting suicide. If there is a delay in providing treatment, there is a greater risk of suicide and teens have a greater challenge of struggling with the mental illness on his or her own. And what often delays treatment, which is usually a combination of psychotherapy and medication, is the stigma of psychotic disorder that both teens and parents experience and prevents them from seeking professional care.


Furthermore, the study found that teens who are more intelligent. Those who were aware of the symptoms they were experiencing were more at risk for taking their lives and they were more adept at hiding their suicide attempts. While those who had little understanding of what was going on were less likely to attempt suicide.


Sadly, symptoms of psychosis in teens between the ages of 15-18 are sometimes mistaken for substance abuse or brain illnesses. This can also create a delay in getting the appropriate psychiatric treatment. Those adolescents that were most at risk for taking their lives were those who lost touch with reality and suffered from delusions and hallucinations.


If a teen experiences these symptoms, he or she should be immediately assessed to determine whether or not a diagnosis exists. A psychological assessment would be used to confirm that diagnosis and begin to create a treatment plan. Then, once an adolescent is treated for a psychotic episode, it is important for a clinician to continue to monitor symptoms in the event that psychosis happens again.


If you are a parent or caregiver, regardless of whether you see these warning signs or not, if you have any feeling that your teen may be prone to psychosis, take him or her to see a psychologist and do not wait to schedule a psychological evaluation. When you involve a mental health professional, you provide the safety and support your teen needs, and indeed, you may even save his or her life.




Case Western Reserve University. (2014, April 24). What makes psychotic teens more at risk for suicide than other groups with psychosis?. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 7, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/04/140424161556.htm