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

  • Leave a Comment
  • Jayanth

    December 28th, 2014 at 10:01 PM

    I am Schizophrenic and hence have got poverty of speech.
    I am put on Sizopin 50 mg 1-0-1.
    Will this drug improve my speech?

  • Astra

    July 23rd, 2021 at 8:15 PM

    I have the same diagnosis. And im on seroquel and serotonin. The medication helps but what helped primarily with my POS was when I left my isolating apartment and spent time around family at my parents house. It kinda forced me to stop psyching myself out about my pos and just practice being around people and speaking more. This pandemic brought a lot of isolation but with support and returning to school and filling my brain again by reading and writing and talking in zoom lectures has helped me a lot. It was a slow progress from january on, but it’s July now and im in my first week of school and i believe the stimulation I got from spending time with fam and coming back to go straight into school not only helped my POS but helped my POC (poverty of content) as well,
    .so stimulate your brain this isn’t just by communicating and busying yourself but start watching movies and shows outside your comfort zone with more complicated plots, start a new series, STIMULATE YOUR BRAIN. I hope this helps POS felt like a caged cell where I couldn’t express anything like every emotion bubbled but no correlating words existed so I was always bottled up. It’s hell but it gets better if you Put the work in. Medication can only do half the work, you have to meet it half way, soooooo unfair I know lol. Hope things get better !

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