Learn about psychosis
When a person enters a psychotic state, he or she will struggle to maintain a connection to reality and to make sense of his or her surroundings, causing harm to himself, herself, or others. Psychosis can present as a symptom of certain mental illnesses (described below) or can come about suddenly due to extreme stress, trauma, or other environmental changes.
Often occurring without a known cause, an episode of psychosis can sometimes include terrifying hallucinations and/or delusions that can cause the affected person to react violently to perceived threats of harm. Alternatively, some experience a more pleasant disconnect from reality when their psychosis brings about positive sensations or feelings of comfort and reassurance.
But no matter the form, the hallucinations, delusions, disorganized speech, and disorganized or catatonic behavior that accompany psychosis will make it difficult for a person to care for himself or herself, and to maintain healthy functioning. A state of psychosis can signal the presence of a serious mental illness, and often accompanies a diagnosis of:
- Bipolar disorder
- Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Schizoaffective disorder
In order to provide appropriate care, psychosis must be viewed in a culturally sensitive context that takes an individual’s identity and beliefs into consideration. Ethical, quality treatment requires that clinicians distinguish between psychosis and culturally appropriate or normative spiritual/religious ideologies that reinforce (rather than harm) a person’s relationship to his or her environment.
If you or someone you care about enters a psychotic state, seek help immediately to avoid dangerous outcomes. With the right support from a qualified treatment provider, you can help keep yourself, your loved one, and others safe during this critical time.
Leading research institutions continue to seek greater understanding of psychosis in the hopes of finding more effective treatments for those who struggle with this experience. To date, they have uncovered the following information about the prevalence and possible causes of psychosis:
- The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) estimates that about 1 in every 25 adults struggles with a mental health disorder that can bring about psychosis
- The American Psychiatric Association (APA) notes that brief psychotic disorder accounts for 9% of cases of first-onset psychosis
- Estimates provided by the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) report that psychotic disorders, including schizophrenia, affect slightly over 1% of American adults
Causes and risk factors for psychosis
The onset of psychosis can be linked to a variety of influences, but there is no single factor that can accurately predict a psychotic state. However, there are some key experiences that seem to contribute to an increased likelihood that you may experience psychosis:
- Having a first-degree family member who has entered a psychotic state, or who suffers from mental illness
- Experiencing complications during your birth
- Having biological parents of older age
- Being exposed to environmental toxins
- Enduring significant trauma or stress
- Abusing alcohol or other drugs
- Prenatal exposure to disease or malnutrition
Signs and symptoms of psychosis
Sometimes the onset of psychosis can be sudden and seemingly out of nowhere. But if you or a loved one begins exhibiting any of the following signs and symptoms, you should seek professional help immediately:
- Delusions: A form of cognitive distortion that occurs when you maintain a belief despite all evidence to the contrary. Some examples of common delusions include believing one is being followed or plotted against, or that a person or external entity is attempting to communicate with you.
- Hallucinations: These auditory or visual distortions occur when you hear, see, taste, or smell things that are not there. These can be particularly upsetting if they are threatening or violent in nature.
- Disorganized thinking: These interruptions in cognitive functioning impact your ability to communicate, use good judgment, and emote. Sometimes disorganized thinking can manifest as jumbled and incoherent thoughts and speech.
- Derealization: This psychotic feature occurs when you feel that your environment and surroundings aren’t real.
- Depersonalization: This psychotic feature leads to feelings of detachment from your body.
Other types of cognitive symptoms can include the following:
- Extreme confusion
- Suicidal thoughts
- Inability to focus
- Delayed thinking
- Sudden violent behaviors
- Inability to function appropriately
- Manic behaviors
- Disorganized speech
- Catatonia – rigid and unresponsive behavior
- Blunted affect
- Inability to communicate
- Extreme sensitivity to lights and/or sounds
- Unkempt appearance
- Loss of appetite
- Extreme anger
- Sudden mood changes
- Feelings of panic
- Extreme anxiety
- Pronounced agitation and irritation
Effects of psychosis
Psychosis will cause a severe interruption in your ability to function, and, left untreated, can lead to the following:
- Making attempts to end your life
- Physical harm to yourself or others due to violent behaviors
- Loss of independence as a result of no longer being able to function appropriately
- Social isolation
- Substance abuse
- Overall decline in mental and physical health
- Job loss/chronic unemployment
- Deterioration of important relationships
- Significant injuries resulting from self-harm
- Chronic suicidal ideation
Treatment for psychosis at Conway Behavioral Health Hospital
If you or a loved one begins exhibiting signs of psychosis, it is imperative that you seek help immediately. The turbulent nature of a psychotic episode puts both the affected individual and others at risk for serious harm, and stabilization is the first necessary step in assuring everyone’s safety. Fortunately, with help from a treatment program that is designed to specifically address symptoms of psychosis, healing is possible.
A multifaceted approach that includes scientifically backed therapeutic supports and pharmacological interventions (as needed) can empower you or someone you care about to overcome the effects of psychosis.