Open Access Highly Accessed Open Badges Research article

Psychotic symptoms, functioning and coping in adolescents with mental illness

Johanna TW Wigman12*, Nina Devlin1, Ian Kelleher1, Aileen Murtagh1, Michelle Harley13, Anne Kehoe4, Carol Fitzpatrick5 and Mary Cannon16

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Psychiatry, Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, Education and Research Centre Dublin, Dublin, Ireland

2 Department of Psychiatry and Neuropsychology, School of Mental Health and Neuroscience, Maastricht University Medical Centre Maastricht, Vijverdalseweg 1, 6226 NB Maastricht, the Netherlands

3 St Joseph’s Adolescent Unit, St Vincent’s Hospital Fairview Dublin, Dublin, Ireland

4 Department of Clinical Psychology, Queen’s University, Belfast, Northern Ireland

5 Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, University College Dublin, Dublin, Ireland

6 Department of Psychiatry, Beaumont Hospital Dublin, Dublin, Ireland

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BMC Psychiatry 2014, 14:97  doi:10.1186/1471-244X-14-97

Published: 1 April 2014



Psychotic symptoms in the context of psychiatric disorders are associated with poor functional outcomes. Environmental stressors are important in the development of psychosis; however, distress may only be pathogenic when it exceeds an individual’s ability to cope with it. Therefore, one interesting factor regarding poor functional outcomes in patients with psychotic symptoms may be poor coping. This paper aimed to address the question whether 1) psychotic symptoms are associated with poorer functioning and 2) whether poor coping moderated the association.


In a clinical case-clinical control study of 106 newly-referred adolescent patients with non-psychotic psychiatric disorders, coping was investigated using the Adolescents Coping Scale. Severity of impairment in socio-occupational functioning was assessed with the Children’s Global Assessment Scale.


Patients with non-psychotic psychiatric disorders and additional psychotic symptoms (N = 50) had poorer functioning and were more likely to use avoidance-oriented coping compared to patients with non-psychotic psychiatric disorders without psychotic symptoms (N = 56). No differences were found with respect to approach-oriented coping. When stratifying for poor/good coping, only those adolescent patients with psychotic symptoms who applied poor coping (i.e. less use of approach-oriented coping styles [OR 0.24, p < 0.015] and more use of avoidance-oriented coping [OR 0.23, p < 0.034]) had poorer functioning. However, these interactions were not significant.


Non-adaptive coping and poorer functioning were more often present in adolescents with non-psychotic psychiatric disorders and additional psychotic symptoms. Due to small subgroups, our analyses could not give definitive conclusions about the question whether coping moderated the association between psychotic symptoms and functioning. Improvement of coping skills may form an important target for intervention that may contribute to better clinical and functional outcomes in patients with psychotic symptoms.

Psychotic symptoms; Coping; Adolescents; Functioning; Mental health