Psychosis occurs when an individual experiences a sudden loss of contact with, or a break from, reality. Most commonly symptomatic of a mental illness, psychosis affects different people in a variety of ways. Many individuals experience hallucinations, delusions, and disorganized thinking patterns while in a psychotic state. Many people will develop intense, overwhelming feelings of paranoia as they become disconnected from their true surroundings and will begin to behave in ways that are grossly disproportionate to the situations that they are in. While some individuals will experience psychosis for a day, a few days, or a few weeks, others may suffer from this debilitating condition on a continual basis.
When a person experiences a state of psychosis, it should be viewed as a sign that a serious illness exists and he or she should be evaluated as soon as possible in order to ensure that the most appropriate level of care is recommended and administered in order to prevent further distress and the onset of more detrimental consequences.
Characteristics of Psychosis
The features of psychosis can range from movement and thought disorders to the presentation of hallucinations and delusions. The various characteristics of psychosis are described in more detail in the following:
Hallucinations consist of false or distorted sensory perceptions that result in an individual experiencing auditory, visual, or olfactory sensations that do not actually exist. However, for people who are experiencing the hallucination, the sensations are very real and they are unable to distinguish between falsities and truths.
Delusions are characterized by strong, sincere beliefs that a person has despite the fact that those beliefs hold no basis in reality. Even when individuals are presented with clear evidence that their beliefs are unfounded, they remain unable to accept it. This abnormality in a person’s thought processes often result in the onset of extreme paranoia.
Catatonic behavior exists when individuals experience a complete lack of motor activity. This is typically exemplified by the tightening of one’s muscles and extreme rigidity. In some instances, people with psychosis will oscillate between periods of catatonia, where they are not able to move at all, and periods of hyperactivity, where they are in constant state of motion.
Disorganized behavior is characterized by patterns of behavior that are abnormal, unpredictable, and inappropriate to one’s given environment. Disorganized behavior is often displayed by episodes in which individuals act overly silly and childlike, or overly aggressive and angry. Other forms of disorganized behavior can include inappropriate staring, cyclical motioning, and echoing.
Disorganized thinking occurs when individuals are plagued by thoughts that are confused and disturbed, causing an individual to be incapable of thinking clearly. When people experience this feature of psychosis, their thinking patterns are typically either moving at such a rapid pace that they feel overwhelmed by their thoughts, or they are slowed so drastically that it feels as though they are not having any thoughts at all.
Causes and Risk Factors for Psychosis
Experts believe that it is the result of a combination of factors working together that makes one more susceptible to developing psychosis. Consider the following:
Genetic: Due to the fact that psychosis is often indicative of the presence of a mental illness, and mental illnesses are known to run in families, the onset of psychosis is believed by experts in the field to have a genetic link.
Physical: Structural changes in the brain have been shown as being present in those who are suffering from psychosis. Scientific studies have demonstrated that psychosis can result from organic medical conditions, including metabolic imbalances, neurological conditions, autoimmune disorders, endocrine disorders, and renal disease. These conditions have all been known to trigger episodes of psychosis.
Environmental: There are some environmental conditions that have been known to trigger short-term psychosis, also known as brief psychotic disorder. Things such as experiencing an excessive amount of stress, going through a trauma, or going through major, unexpected life changes can elicit the onset of psychosis.
- Personal history of mental illness
- Family history of mental illness
- Being exposed to toxic substances
- History of substance abuse
- Experiencing severe trauma
- Having recently given birth
Signs and Symptoms of Psychosis
The signs and symptoms of psychosis will vary amongst those who are suffering from it depending on a number of different factors, included the cause that initiated the onset of the psychotic break, whether or not a mental illness is present, as well as other individual factors that are unique to the individual, such as one’s personality and temperament. Examples of various symptoms that may be exhibited by a person who is experiencing psychosis may include the following:
- Disorganized speech
- Disorganized, bizarre, and/or inappropriate behaviors
- Extreme paranoia
- Visual hallucinations
- Auditory hallucinations
- Olfactory hallucinations
- Responding to nonexistent external stimuli
- Social isolation
- Lacking appropriate hygiene
- Engaging is self-harming behaviors
- Loss of interest in things once interested in
Disorders Associated with Symptoms of Psychosis
In some cases, individuals will be affected by psychosis for a few day or weeks but, in other cases, psychosis can be symptomatic of a chronic psychiatric condition or of significant physical health concerns. Some of the disorders of which psychosis is most frequently symptomatic include:
Schizophrenia is likely the most common mental health disorder associated with psychotic features. Individuals who have schizophrenia experience monumental misinterpretations of the world around them and struggle to differentiate between what is real and what is not real.
Bipolar disorder causes individuals to experience extreme fluctuations in mood that oscillate between states of mania and depression. Both mania and depression can be accompanied by psychotic symptoms, typically in the form of visual or auditory hallucinations.
Schizoaffective disorder is a mental illness that causes those afflicted by it to experience symptoms that resemble both a mood disorder, such as bipolar disorder, as well as schizophrenia.
Certain forms of dementia can render some individuals susceptible to experiencing the onset of psychosis, typically causing severe disturbances in their behaviors. Amongst dementia patients, paranoid delusions and visual hallucinations tend to be the most commonly displayed of psychotic features.
Physical illnesses or medical conditions can sometimes trigger psychosis. Illnesses that interfere with the structure and normal functioning of an individual’s brain are believed to be the most likely type of condition to elicit a psychotic episode.
Postpartum psychosis has been known to occur in some women. The act of childbirth can trigger a psychotic episode, typically occurring within the first month after the baby’s delivery.
Treatment for Psychosis
In the majority of cases, psychosis will require inpatient care. However, if you have a disorder that is commonly associated with psychosis, there are some outpatient therapies that can be beneficial in helping to manage one’s symptoms in order to prevent further psychotic episodes. Additionally, outpatient treatment can be used as a step-down from a more intensive treatment regimen, such as inpatient or partial hospitalization programs, in order to help prevent the need for future hospitalization. Furthermore, by taking part in ongoing outpatient therapy, the mental health professionals with whom an individual is working may be able to recognize symptoms of psychosis earlier and make appropriate referrals for high levels of care when necessary.