Published: November 1, 2018

Hielscher, E., Connell, M., Lawrence, D., Zubrick, S. R., Hafekost, J., & Scott, J. G. (2018). Prevalence and correlates of psychotic experiences in a nationally representative sample of Australian adolescents. Australian & New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 52(8), 768-781.


Emily Hielscher, Melissa Connell, David Lawrence, Stephen R. Zubrick, Jennifer Hafekost, and James G. Scott.


Despite growing literature on psychotic experiences, no nationally representative study has reported on the prevalence of both hallucinatory experiences and delusional experiences in Australian adolescents. Also, while many studies have examined the association between psychotic experiences and certain demographic and clinical correlates, there are more variables of interest to be investigated, including disordered eating behaviour and hours of sleep. The aims of this study were to examine (1) the prevalence of hallucinatory experiences and delusional experiences in Australian adolescents, and (2) the associations between different types of psychotic experiences with a broad range of demographic, clinical, and psychosocial variables.

A random sample of Australian adolescents aged 14- to 17-year-olds were recruited in 2013–2014 as part of the Young Minds Matter Survey. Participants completed self-report questions regarding five different psychotic experience types (auditory and visual hallucinatory experiences, and thoughts read, special messages, spied upon) experienced in the past 12 months. Using logistic regression analyses, we investigated associations between psychotic experiences and demographic, clinical, and psychosocial factors.

The 12-month prevalence ranged from 3.3% (95% confidence interval = [2.6, 4.3]) for special messages to 14.0% (95% confidence interval = [12.3, 15.8]) for auditory hallucinatory experiences. At the bivariate level, each psychotic experience subtype was associated with increased likelihood of major depression, being bullied, psychological distress, low self-esteem, mental health service use and insufficient sleep (<8 hours per night). Multivariate analyses revealed both auditory and visual hallucinatory experiences were associated with an increased likelihood of four of these variables (depression, being bullied, service use, insufficient sleep), whereas associations with delusional experiences were inconsistent.

Hallucinatory and delusional experiences are common in Australian adolescents. Hallucinatory experiences, rather than delusional experiences, may be more clinically relevant in this demographic. When psychotic experiences are endorsed by adolescents, further assessment is indicated so as to ascertain more detail on the phenomenology of the experiences to better understand their clinical relevance.