Poverty of Speech

Poverty of speech is a speech problem that occurs when a person’s speech is very minimal and typically must be prompted. Poverty of speech is not always indicative of a mental health concern, but it can be characteristic of schizophrenia and can also occur alongside other mental health conditions or as a result of anxiety.

Causes and Characteristics of Poverty of Speech
While in some cases people with poverty of speech may not talk at all, the more common manifestation is very limited speech. Characteristic of the symptom is the tendency only to speak when prompted, and to provide very limited answers. A person might, for example, respond to the question, “How did you feel when your mother yelled at you?” with “bad.” When prompted to provide more information by a follow-up question, the responses would be similarly limited.

Poverty of speech is a common symptom of schizophrenia, and may co-occur with poverty of content–a symptom in which a person provides extensive verbal feedback that contains little useful information.

Poverty of speech is also common in people experiencing emotional distress, particularly depressed people. Children may also experience this symptom, particularly after a traumatic incident or when they do not feel comfortable in their surroundings. Some developmental delays can cause poverty of speech. People with autism, for example, may provide very limited verbal feedback.

Treatment for Poverty of Speech
Poverty of speech does not always warrant treatment. People may experience the symptom during periods of stress or when they feel uncomfortable. When the symptom is ongoing, however, it may be symptomatic of an underlying mental health condition. Treatment typically focuses on treating the cause of the poverty of speech rather than the symptom itself. People with schizophrenia are typically treated with antipsychotic medication, and may also be prescribed anti-anxiety medications and mood regulators depending upon their specific symptoms of schizophrenia. However, in children with developmental delays, occupational therapy may help treat the symptom itself by teaching children speech and social skills.


  1. Colman, A. M. (2006). Oxford dictionary of psychology. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
  2. Ragin, A. B., M. Pogue-Geile, and T. F. Oltmanns. “Poverty of Speech in Schizophrenia and Depression during In-patient and Post-hospital Periods.” The British Journal of Psychiatry 154.1 (1989): 52-57. Print.

Last Updated: 08-18-2015

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