Psychosis is a word used to describe the occurrence of unusual or strange experiences which may cause an individual to have great distress. When someone has psychosis, he or she loses touch with the world around them and has a difficult time distinguishing what is real from what is not real. Psychosis is usually a symptom or feature of mental illness that is characterized by extreme changes in personality, impaired functioning, and a distorted sense of reality. Those with psychosis most often experience hallucinations, delusions, and may behave and communicate in inappropriate, incoherent ways. However, for those experiencing psychosis, their experiences are very real and they will continue to believe them despite evidence to the contrary.
Psychosis has the ability to affect people in different ways, having a huge impact on the sufferer. These psychotic episodes are known to last anywhere from a few days to weeks and can be recurrent in some people. Due to the disconnection from the outside world, and the delusions and hallucinations experienced, a person with psychotic symptoms, or who experiences a psychotic break, could present a risk to themselves and others if treatment is not sought.
Characteristics of Psychosis
There are a number of specific features that suggest an individual may be suffering from psychosis. Some of the characteristics that may be present include:
Hallucinations are false or distorted sensory experiences that appear to be real. Those who are having hallucinations often see, hear, smell, taste, or feel things that are not really there.
Delusions are unshakeable, irrational beliefs in something that is not true. Delusions defy normal reasoning and remain firm even when an individual is presented with proof that disproves them. Some delusions may include beliefs that harm is imminent, one is exceptional in comparison to others, other people are in love with him or her, and that an outside force is adversely influencing the status of one’s health. Additionally, people experiencing delusions may feel as though their thoughts are being controlled, removed, or implanted by an outside source.
Disorganized thinking and speech refers to the often-confusing thoughts that come from a person suffering from psychosis. Additionally, those with psychosis often speak incoherently and talk in unintelligible speech patterns. This is due to the rapid rate in which the individual is experiencing emotions or different ideas. Conversely, a person with psychosis may experience a slowing of his or her thought processes and find it extremely difficult to communicate with others.
Disorganized or catatonic behavior is behavior that is inappropriate to a situation or one’s surrounding environment. Disorganized behavior is unpredictable and includes behavior such as screaming in the middle of a class. Catatonic behavior, on the other hand, is described as either a complete lack of or excess of motor activity. Other behaviors associated with psychosis are repetitious behaviors, staring, and echoing.
Causes and Risk Factors for Psychosis
Psychosis may be caused by a number of different biological and social factors, depending upon the underlying disorder that has caused the psychosis to develop. Some common factors that may lead to psychosis include:
Genetic: Just like other mental illnesses, psychosis is believed to have strong genetic component. Those with a family history of psychosis, especially those with a first-degree family member, have a greater chance of developing psychotic features at some point in their life.
Physical: Certain medical conditions including metabolic imbalances, kidney disease, disorders effecting hormones, autoimmune disorders, and neurological conditions have been known to cause psychotic symptoms to emerge in people.
Environmental: Sometimes extreme environmental changes can bring about brief periods of psychosis. Some of these environmental factors can include excessive stress, experiencing trauma, being the victim of a crime, or any other unexpected major life-change can potentially lead to a psychotic break.
- Being the victim of a crime
- Having recently given birth
- Undiagnosed mental illness
- Poor social skills
- Lack of coping skills
- Substance abuse
- Family history of mental illness
- Pre-existing mental illness
- Exposure to toxic substances
- Experiencing trauma
Disorders Associated with Psychotic Symptoms
Schizophrenia is often accompanied by psychosis. The hallucinations and delusions associated with this disorder can cause severe impairment in a person’s ability to function because it can be extremely difficult for a person to distinguish what is real and what is symptomatic of the illness.
Schizoaffective disorder presents with symptoms similar to schizophrenia. However, this disorder is different from schizophrenia because of the additional presence of mood disorder symptoms. Among the other symptoms associated with schizoaffective disorder, psychosis is often the most debilitating.
Bipolar disorder is a mood disorder that has been known to bring about psychosis in a person. Due to the extreme shifts in mood from depression to mania, it is not uncommon for a person with bipolar disorder to experience symptoms of psychosis.
Certain forms of dementia can bring about psychotic symptoms, especially when an individual is in the more advanced stages of the illness. Visual hallucinations, as well as paranoid delusions, are common.
Medical conditions have also been known to cause psychotic symptoms to appear. Since some medical conditions interfere with a person’s normal brain functioning, psychosis can be an unfortunate side effect.
Substance abuse has been known to cause the development of psychosis, especially during withdrawal. Certain symptoms will be dependent on the type of substance being abused, the length of abuse, and the severity of the addiction.
Signs and Symptoms of Psychosis
The experience of psychosis differs greatly from person to person. Symptoms will also vary in terms of frequency and severity. Psychosis describes a number of experiences that may happen at the same time and usually include one or more of the following:
- Visual, auditory, and/or olfactory hallucinations
- Believing that you are being controlled by outside forces
- Confused thinking or speech
- Loss of interest in things or activities the person once enjoyed
- Having racing thoughts and having trouble keeping ideas on track
- Responding to nonexistent external stimuli
- Social isolation
- Mood changes
- Unusual behavior
- Impaired motor functioning
- Poor hygiene
- Overemotional or total lack of emotion
- Depressed mood
Treatment for Psychosis
For those patients who are experiencing psychosis and are behaving in ways that put themselves and others in danger, an inpatient stabilization program is often the best place to start the treatment process. The treatment process is going to be unique to each individual depending on the cause of their psychosis, which is why an initial evaluation is done upon admission in order to determine specific treatment needs. Through the collaboration of mental health professionals and medical staff, a person suffering from psychotic symptoms is able to receive supervised care in a safe environment, surrounded by people who have the individual’s best interest at heart. Additionally, acute inpatient hospitalization is an opportunity to explore medication options that could help provide relief from an individual’s psychotic symptoms. An inpatient setting is a good place for a person to determine the most effective medication, learn how manage his or her symptoms, and restore hope for the future by learning new skills that could improve his or her daily functioning.