Am I Developing Schizophrenia?

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Reader’s Question

I am 16 years old and I guess I have some problems.

They were recently brought to my attention by a friend and by my mother. They have existed in my life for about two years, some longer than that, since the time I found my kitten dead in our dryer — that actually landed me in therapy because I was traumatized by it. My therapist tends to try and help me out if it’s school related or related to my kitten but if I bring anything else up she just says things like, “Oh you’re a teen, your body and mind are changing.” To make a point she let me take a mental exam and IQ test, but I got scared and didn’t exactly tell the truth on it, so I don’t really have accurate results on it. So I’m asking this stuff here because I have an appointment coming up this week and figured if someone else showed concerns other than me, maybe she’d actually pretend to show concern too. Maybe I’ll try and take the test again honestly if she lets me.

When people are behind me or near me laughing or whispering, it’s about me; I know they’re talking bad about me, saying things like, “it’s that weird girl.” I can’t hear them saying it, but I know it’s what they’re saying.

I tend to lose my train of thought in mid-sentence and need to be reminded what I was talking about quite often when I’m having a normal conversation. Also I sometimes say wrong words honestly thinking they fit properly in my statements. I don’t realize it was wrong until someone says “What?!” example: “What size shirt do you wear again?” me: “Orange.”

I’m being spied on, I don’t know who it is, but they watch me through my windows and through my computer. I’m getting better at dealing with it, but I still can’t face my window when I’m in my room; I have to close my eyes to get to my bed so I don’t see the window. I tend to cry or get angry over little things, like if someone just asks me to focus or to do something. I have panic attacks sometimes when I have to go out in the dark, or just outside, because I know someone is out there who is going to harm me in some way either physically or emotionally.

There is a person in my basement who is going to murder me if I go down there; or he might come out when I’m home alone. He hasn’t yet but I know he’s there, he just hides when anyone goes down there. There are ghosts haunting me; I can’t see them, but I can feel them around my room when I’m trying to sleep, and I feel them standing over my shoulder or breathing down my neck sometimes.

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I don’t have many friends because I’ve very suspicious that they’re secretly out to get me or are just using me. So I try to avoid social contact with other people, except for some online conversations.

I can see the future. Sometimes I dream things before they happen. This has existed since childhood actually.

I’m also extremely paranoid about being harmed in general.

Today my mom took me to the mall and on the way out we started walking for the car. I was halfway around the car to the passenger side when I stopped dead in my tracks, stared at the white van next to our car, and sprinted to the other side of our car; I scrambled into the backseat, made sure my mom was in, and locked all the doors before climbing into the passenger seat. Even then I was still extremely anxious; I kept seeing shadows of people in the van out of the corner of my eye, and I was very scared. I didn’t feel safe until we were out of the parking lot.

Psychologist’s Reply

The title of your question as you wrote it was, “Am I Developing Schizophrenia?” I cannot diagnose someone with a disorder when I have not met him or her, but I can give you some thoughts about whether what you describe matches the symptoms and signs of schizophrenia. So, I want to respond to your question by giving you some information about schizophrenia, so you can make some decisions about what you think might be happening and what to do.

Schizophrenia is a fairly rare disorder, affecting approximately 7 people per thousand, as estimated by the World Health Organization.

Schizophrenia is characterized by different types of symptoms. Positive symptoms are symptoms that we typically think of as unique to schizophrenia or psychotic disorders, such as hallucinations, delusions, thought disorders, and movement disorders. Hallucinations are when someone sees, hears, or feels things that others do not see, feel, or hear. Seeing things, smelling odors, hearing voices that others do not, or feeling sensations on the skin are typical examples. You mentioned a few experiences that could potentially be hallucinations, including feeling breath on your neck when no one is there, seeing shadows (if they were not seen by others), or hearing people talk to you or to each other when they are out of earshot.

Delusions are fixed, false beliefs, or beliefs that are held by someone despite evidence to the contrary, and despite others not holding that belief. For example, let’s imagine you shared with your mother your belief that someone was living in your basement, and the two of you checked into that. If there were no signs of someone having been in the basement or living there, but you continued to be preoccupied and distressed by this belief, it would likely be considered a delusional belief. One type of delusion is persecutory or paranoid delusions, in which a person believes that others intend harm toward him or her. You mentioned several examples of persecutory beliefs, including feeling suspicious of your friends and afraid that there are people outside your window, in your basement, and in a nearby van who mean to harm you. Again, you would need to consider whether these beliefs are distressing, preoccupying, and strongly held by you despite a lack of evidence.

Another positive symptom is thought disorder, or difficulty with thinking or speaking. Disorganized thinking is when someone has trouble connecting thoughts logically, and they may be difficult to understand. Another symptom related to thinking is called, ‘thought blocking,’ which is when someone abruptly stops talking due to a sense of having the thought suddenly stop or leave his or her mind. ‘Neologisms’ are when someone uses a word that is made-up or meaningless, but is unaware of doing so. It could be that when you replied, “orange” to your friend’s question, you made a simple, silly mistake. However, if you are having frequent difficulty communicating with others, there may be more to it.

Movement disorder includes particular ways of moving, such as in a repetitive way, or having a lack of movement (catatonia). I did not hear you mention any physical, movement-related concerns.

Given that the onset of schizophrenia can range anywhere from adolescence to early adulthood, it is possible that you are in the beginning stages of this disorder. You mentioned that you are meeting again with your therapist. You may have already done so and received some recommendations. If you have not, I would suggest contacting a therapist or psychiatrist who could do a thorough evaluation based on the concerns that you indicated in your post. If you do meet criteria for schizophrenia, you would likely be referred to a practitioner who could evaluate with medication treatment in mind. Positive symptoms typically respond to medication, and many people who have been diagnosed with schizophrenia are able to benefit enough from medication and therapy to lead independent and satisfying lives, according to the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health.

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