Thought disorder reflects a pattern of disorganized thoughts, often indicated by a flight of ideas or so-called “word salad.” In teenagers, thought disorders can lead directly to a break with reality, including the hearing of imagined voices and delusional thinking. Moreover, thought disorders often are accompanied by executive function problems and general disorganization.
What is Thought Disorder?
Thought disorder, or formal thought disorder, is a mental condition characterized by disorganized thinking and overall cognition confusion. Formal thought disorder refers to a disturbance in a person’s ability to generate a logical sequence of ideas or a coherent narrative. Thought disorders can occur in both written and spoken language, and are often a sign of a psychotic episode or schizophrenic break.
Specific thought disorders include derailment, when idea patterns are unrelated; poverty of speech, in which there is a general lack of modifying and explanatory content; perseveration, characterized by continual repetition of a single thought or phrase; and thought blocking, when speech is interrupted by unexpected silences. Thought disorders are usually diagnosed when a person’s speaking or writing indicates illogical or incoherent patterns of thinking—a sign of a delusional mindset.
A symptom of many different mental disorders, disordered thinking often implies a psychosis. In fact, disordered thinking is considered a defining characteristic of schizophrenia. However, thought disorder is not unique to schizophrenia or psychosis. A thought disorder can be a symptom of other mental disorders, such as bipolar mania or clinical depression. Psychotherapy and medication support can be used to help manage a thought disorder.