A teen feels she might be experiencing schizophrenia symptoms.
I am 13 years old, and I have been noticing some things that have been going on lately with me are related to schizophrenia. Do I have it? Some of my symptoms are hearing noises and people I know talking about me in my head, getting nervous about talking or being with people or my close friends, and believing things that I know can’t possibly be real.
—Looking for Answers
Dear Looking for Answers,
I am glad you felt comfortable asking this question, as I imagine many others have similar symptoms and are curious as to why they are happening.
Schizophrenia is a well-researched and frequently discussed mental illness. The first thing you need to know is that a diagnosis of schizophrenia needs to be made in person by a licensed psychiatrist or psychologist and cannot be made via written messages, so I encourage you to consult a licensed mental health care professional to help you answer your specific questions.
The fact that you know the symptoms you’re experiencing are often found among lists of symptoms of schizophrenia suggests you’ve done some research.
The three things you are feeling are worth monitoring:
- “Hearing noises and people I know talking about me in my head”
- “Getting nervous about talking or being with people or my close friends”
- “Believing things that I know can’t possibly be real”
Let’s consider each of these individually.
1. Hearing noises and people talking about you in your head.
This could suggest audible delusions. However, many people commonly associate others talking about them with deep feelings of insecurity. It is possible the noises and voices are a conversation going on in your own head about your fears of being accepted by others. When strong feelings of inadequacy exist, it can be very difficult to differentiate between audible voices and internal conversations. There is no real way to confirm this other than monitoring these experiences over time and sharing them with a trusted person who has your best interests at heart. If insecurity is a significant issue for you, then I suggest working with a therapist on finding ways to overcome the normal but very intrusive feelings and thoughts that accompany your insecurity. All people feel insecure about one thing or another. Some struggle more than others in overcoming those issues and allow them to overpower their choice to feel confident.
2. Being nervous around people, including close friends.
Social introversion can be associated with psychosis, but more often it is related to personality and life experiences. Many people struggle with social awkwardness and/or anxiety of many kinds, such as phobias. This is a treatable condition in which traditional counseling or cognitive behavioral therapy can be very effective. This condition also can resolve itself as you develop and over time. It is very hard to be 13 and nervous around people, as your peers may not be very patient or understanding of such things. Please know you are not alone and many people overcome this and have very productive lives full of meaningful relationships.
3. Believing things that can’t be real.
Again, this could be a symptom of delusions, as found with people who suffer psychotic breaks. However, it can also be explained by your mind playing tricks on itself. Throughout history, people have been known to lock on to beliefs that on the surface appear to be ludicrous but eventually become true. For example, Galileo claimed the planets all rotated around the sun rather than the other way around. People wanted to throw him in jail or call him crazy. There have also been rational people who have held on to irrational beliefs of one kind or another with little to no evidence of truth, such as the folklore around Santa Claus and/or the Tooth Fairy. These are childhood stories that rational people want to believe are true. Sometimes thoughts or wishes can be dramatically enhanced in your mind and find their way into a repeating belief pattern.
Whether you are having a psychotic episode or not, it would be very beneficial for you to share your experiences with someone you trust and who can connect you with the right people to talk to about all these possibilities. If you are fortunate enough to have a dependable parent or caregiver, I would start with them. If not, an older mentor, extended family member or teacher would be the next best place to start.
It is my hope that by writing down your question and reading this response you’ve helped yourself clarify what you need to do to move forward. It is also my hope that all those reading will be encouraged by your bravery to ask.
Have a question of your own? Ask Dr. McKinley, and we may feature it along with his answer in an upcoming article.
This information is for educational purposes only. For questions or concerns regarding your health, please consult a doctor or mental health professional. If you need to talk to someone about your mental health and locate treatment services in your area, visit SAMHSA’s National Helpline.