Dina is a 14-year-old Ed Sheeran fan, helps to coach swimming on the weekends and is trying to decide which options to pick for her GCSEs. She has a pet rabbit called Hotdog and she doesn’t like mushrooms. She also hears voices that other people can’t hear.
Hearing voices is one of the most commonly-known symptoms of psychosis: an umbrella term used to describe a collection of unusual experiences that signal a loss of contact with reality. Psychosis (or the more chronic condition schizophrenia) is often thought of as an adult mental health problem. In fact about 80 per cent of first episodes of psychosis occur between 15 and 25 years old, with some even younger.
Psychotic experiences are often classified as “positive symptoms” or “negative symptoms.” Positive symptoms are ones that are “added on,” such as hearing voices that other people can’t or having suspicious or paranoid beliefs—thinking there is a conspiracy against you, for example, or thinking that other people may be mind-reading or even controlling your thoughts. “Negative symptoms” are things that get taken away, such as a lack of motivation or a lack of emotion.
It is possible to have some psychotic-like experiences that don’t interfere too much with everyday life, but for people with extreme and distressing psychotic symptoms, functioning “normally” is really difficult. Imagine trying to have a conversation with someone while you have two people whispering, one in each ear, some of the most horrible fears that you have about yourself. Imagine trying to sit a GCSE mock exam while you can hear a voice just behind you telling you that you are going to fail.
Dina’s voices aren’t nice to her. The things they say make her feel bad and suspicious of her friends and family. Sometimes they encourage her to do things to hurt herself. Sometimes she does what they say.
Psychotic experiences are similar whatever the person’s age, but their meaning and impact for a child or teenager might bring additional challenges. Dina is yet to experience the potential of what she can do and be in her life. She hasn’t taken her GCSEs yet, so although she’s predicted good grades, her diagnosis calls that into question…