Commentary: Diagnostic Challenges in Evaluating Adolescents.

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Three cases presented in this issue highlight diagnostic challenges in evaluating adolescents, in particular those with a constellation of symptoms that includes hallucinations. These cases raise the question of the accuracy of patient reports and the importance of further exploring symptoms before rushing to a diagnosis or treatment. The first case involved an 18-year-old female patient with Cotard syndrome. She had the syndrome’s typical delusions and hallucinations, but her case was unusual because this syndrome is more common in adults and usually involves prominent mood symptoms. The second case involved a 14-year-old girl with depressive symptoms, suicidal ideas, and auditory and visual hallucinations, as well as sexually predatory behavior. This case was unusual in that girls and women are less commonly sexual predators although such behavior is more common among survivors of sexual abuse, as was the case with this patient. The authors believe that the patient’s “hallucinations” were more likely related to posttraumatic stress disorder and dissociation. The third case involved a 16-year-old girl diagnosed with schizophrenia and treated with antipsychotics based merely on her report of “visions” of demons but absent any auditory hallucinations, delusions, or thought disorder. The authors, consulting on the case, identified more prominent depression, anxiety, and trauma-related symptoms as a result of school bullying and concluded that the patient did not have schizophrenia. Only the patient in the first of these 3 cases actually met the criteria for a psychotic disorder and warranted medication treatment. These cases highlight the importance of a full differential diagnosis in evaluating adolescent patients presenting with what appear to be psychotic symptoms to avoid the harm that can occur in terms of stigma and unnecessary treatment with the risk of side effects from antipsychotic medications when an incorrect diagnosis is made.

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Authors: Amir Garakani