Psychosis in Children

Psychosis is the general term used to describe a mental health issue where a young person experiences changes in thinking, perception, mood and behaviour, which can seriously disrupt their life. Indeed, a young person experiencing psychosis will find maintaining relationships difficult as well as to concentrate on day to day school and life activities and looking after themselves adequately on a daily basis.

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Psychosis is relatively rare in childhood, though rates rise significantly during adolescence, where first outbreaks will typically first occur from the ages of 15-30 years of age.

The main psychotic diagnoses include: drug-induced psychosis, bipolar disorder, psychotic depression and schizophrenia. The onset of any of these conditions may occur rapidly or it may take many months or years for symptoms to manifest themselves.

The key to successful recovery is the earliest possible intervention. This is particularly problematic as many of the emerging symptoms  can be mistaken for normal adolescent behaviour. This Duration of Untreated Psychosis (DUP) is critical: the longer it is, the worse the outcome for the young person. The rates of recovery however for young people are good, with the majority of young people recovering well after a first episode if caught early enough for effective interventions.

It is important to remember that psychosis is not a static condition; at any given time a young person may be experiencing severe to mild symptoms, or indeed, none at all. A young person may be suffering from delusions: these are false beliefs, or hallucinations: these are false perceptions, commonly involving hearing voices, but also tasting or smelling things. Both delusions and hallucinations may be frightening for a young person and will appear very real experiences despite what a bystander may suggest to the young person.

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Experts agree that a combination of factors including stress, genetics, biochemistry and other factors may lead to the development of psychosis. The onset of psychosis is often triggered by a stressful or traumatic event, but this will depend on the individual’s vulnerability. Psychotic illnesses are not directly inherited, but data shows that having relatives who are affected can significantly increase the likelihood for a young person to also develop a psychotic illness. Though the changes in the brain caused by psychosis are not yet fully understood, high levels of dopamine (a mood-regulating brain chemical) appears to be associated with symptoms of psychosis. Other relevant factors include young people having a head injury, complications around birth, alcohol misuse and drugs misuse.

Delegates attending a 2-day Youth Mental Health First Aid Course, with Head First Ltd, will look closely at psychosis and consider the signs and symptoms, risk factors, warning signs and recommended Mental Health First Aid approaches. In addition, the course manual (included for all delegates to take away after the course) contains many helpful resources, publications, organisations and self-help strategies to help a young person with psychotic feelings.


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