Psychosis occurs when an individual loses touch with the world around him or her. A psychiatric condition commonly associated with schizophrenia, schizotypal disorder, and bipolar disorder, psychosis is known to cause delusions, hallucinations, disorganized thinking, abnormal physical behavior, and negative symptoms. Moreover, those who suffer from substance abuse disorders can experience psychosis as a result of their substance use.
Effecting people in different ways with varying extremes of symptoms present, psychosis can have a huge impact on the sufferer. Psychotic episodes can last anywhere from a few days to weeks and in some people they can be recurrent. 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 pose a risk to him or herself and others if treatment is not sought.
Characteristics of Psychosis
There are a number of specific features that infer a person is suffering from psychosis. The following characteristics may be present:
Hallucinations, which occur without outside stimuli, effect normal perceptions of the world around as the individual sees and hears things that others cannot see or hear. Perceptions not under the control of the person experiencing them, hallucinations can mean that the individual is hearing voices that are different from his or her own internal monologue.
Delusions may include beliefs that harm is imminent, environmental cues are personally directed, one is exceptional in comparison to others, other people are in love with him or her, catastrophes are impending, and that an outside force is adversely influencing the status of one’s health. Moreover, people experiencing delusions may feel as though their thoughts are controlled, removed, or implanted by an outside source. Severity of this characteristic is sometimes determined by the person’s level of conviction in which he or she believes the delusions to be true despite evidence that proves otherwise.
Disorganized thinking refers to the often-confusing thoughts that come from a person suffering from psychosis. This characteristic is verbal and can present as if the person is free-associating about topics that have no relation or do not seem to make sense. 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 their thought processes and find it extremely difficult to communicate with others.
Abnormal physical behaviors can come in different forms. A person with psychotic features may present with childlike playfulness or unpredictable agitation. Catatonic behavior, which can occur as a reaction to the person’s environment, looks as though the individual is unable to move or is in an unnatural stance or pose. Catatonic behavior can also signify a lack of verbal and/or physical response to outside stimuli. Other behaviors associated with psychosis are repetitious behaviors, staring, and echoing.
Negative symptoms, typically associated with schizophrenia, are symptoms that take away normal functioning concurrent with human behavior. Symptoms such as diminished facial expression (flat affect), decreased socialization, or hindered speech are common in people presenting with negative symptoms.
Causes and Risk Factors for Psychosis
While the specific cause of psychosis has yet to be realized by researchers, a widely accepted notion among mental health professionals is that a combination several contributors could render a person susceptible to the development of psychotic features. These agreed upon contributors are:
Genetic: As with other mental illnesses, psychosis is believe to have strong genetic ties to its origins. 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 his or her lifetime.
Physical: Certain medical conditions have been known to bring about psychosis in people. Metabolic imbalances, kidney disease, disorders effecting hormones, autoimmune disorders, and neurological conditions have caused psychotic symptoms to emerge in people.
Environmental: Brief psychotic disorder, a disorder in which a person experiences short-term psychosis, is believed to be brought on by extreme environmental changes. Excessive stress, experiencing trauma, being the victim of a crime, or experiencing an unexpected major life-change can cause a psychotic break. Onset of this disorder is quick and can be an appropriate diagnosis for those who are able to recover from the episode within a short amount of time.
- Family history of mental illness
- Pre-existing mental illness
- Undiagnosed mental illness
- Poor social skills
- Lack of coping skills
- Substance abuse
- Exposure to toxic substances
- Experiencing trauma
- Being the victim of a crime
- Having recently given birth
Disorders associated with Psychotic Symptoms
Schizophrenia is frequently associated with psychosis. Hallucinations and delusions associated with this disorder can cause severe impairment in a person’s functioning, as it can be extremely difficult for a person to discern what is real and what is symptomatic of schizophrenia.
Schizoaffective disorder presents with symptoms similar to schizophrenia. However, what makes this disorder different from schizophrenia is that presence of mood disorder symptoms. Among the other symptoms associated with schizoaffective disorder, psychosis is often the most debilitating.
Bipolar disorder, a mood disorder, can also bring about psychosis in a person. Due to the extremes 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 when an individual is in the more advanced stages of the illness. Visual hallucinations are common as well as paranoid delusions.
Medical conditions can cause psychotic symptoms to manifest. Because some conditions interfere with a person’s normal brain functioning, psychosis can be an unfortunate side effect.
Postpartum psychosis occurs following the birth of a child. Imbalances or surges in hormones, can affect the brain’s ability to regulate mood in a normal way. When this kind of hormonal change occurs, psychotic features could be the result in a postpartum woman.
Signs and Symptoms of Psychosis
There are a number of telling signs that a person is experiencing psychosis. And while the number of signs and symptoms can vary person to person in terms of their frequency and severity, it should be noted if a person is presenting with any of the following signs or symptoms:
- Visual, auditory, and olfactory hallucinations
- Loss of interest in things or activities the person once enjoyed
- Responding to nonexistent external stimuli
- Social isolation
- Impaired motor functioning
- Disorganized thoughts and/or speech
- Odd behaviors
- Poor hygiene
- Overemotional or total lack of emotion
- Depressed mood
Treatment for Psychosis
Due to the level of impairment caused by psychosis and the fact that its presence means a mental health disorder is present, acute inpatient hospitalization can be the most effective way to treat psychotic symptoms and any disorder present. 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 and well being at heart. Furthermore, acute inpatient hospitalization is opportunity to explore medication options that could relieve a person from psychotic symptoms. An inpatient setting is a good place for a person to discover effective medication options, 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.