Psychosis is a psychiatric condition that is defined as a loss of sense of reality. Individuals who have psychosis may experience things such as hallucinations, delusions, or extremely disorganized thinking patterns. This means that they may hear voices that no one else can hear, see things that do not actually exist, and, at times, perceive threats that are not real. Additionally, the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors an individual with psychosis experiences tend to be inappropriate and disconnected from the world around them. In any of these situations, however, the psychotic person is unaware of his or her disconnection with reality.
Psychosis is most commonly associated with the presence of a mental health disorder, such as schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, bipolar disorder, substance use disorders, and Alzheimer’s disease. Psychosis affects different people in different ways; some individuals may only experience psychosis for a few days or weeks, while others experience it chronically. When psychosis is present, it is a sign that an individual is suffering from a serious illness and should be evaluated immediately in order for the most appropriate level of care to be obtained.
Characteristics of Psychosis
Psychosis, also referred to as psychotic episodes or psychotic breaks, typically include features such as delusions, hallucinations, movement disorders, and thought disorders. When people are experiencing a psychotic episode, they may exhibit one or more of the following symptoms:
Hallucinations: Hallucinations are false sensory perceptions that cause an individual to experience auditory, visual, or olfactory sensations that do not actually exist. However, when people experiences hallucinations, the sensations are very real for them and they are unable to distinguish the falsities from reality.
Delusions: Delusions are beliefs that people have despite the fact that those beliefs have no basis in reality. People experiencing delusions are unable to recognize that their beliefs are false, continuing to believe the delusions even when they are supplied evidence that proves that the beliefs are false. The presence of delusions indicate abnormality in a person’s thought processes, often resulting in extreme paranoia.
Disorganized behavior: Disorganized behavior refers to behavior that is unusual, unpredictable, and inappropriate to the situation or surrounding environment. Those experiencing disorganized behavior may act in a variety of ways, including being overly childlike and silly, or acting angry and overly aggressive. Examples of these behaviors may also include things like inappropriate staring, cyclical motioning, or echoing things that they hear other people say.
Catatonic behavior: When a person experiences a complete lack of or inappropriate excess of motor activity, they may be experiencing catatonia. This behavior is often characterized by extreme rigidity or muscle tightness. For some people, this lack of motor activity can alternate with hyperactivity. In other words, these people are either constantly in motion or are not able to move at all.
Disorganized thoughts: Disorganized thoughts are characterized by confused or disturbed thought patterns where individuals find themselves unable to think clearly. For people experiencing disorganized thoughts, thinking may become rapid as they become overwhelmed by different ideas and emotions. It is also possible that their thinking may slow down so drastically that it seems as though they are not having any thoughts at all. Individuals with disorganized thinking are unable to put their thoughts together into appropriate sequences and can be difficult to communicate with.
Causes and Risk Factors for Psychosis
Like other psychiatric disorders, psychosis can be caused by a number of different biological and social factors that depend on the disorder an individual has, as well as the underlying symptoms of that disorder. Some of the most commonly cited causes and risk factors for psychosis can include the following:
Genetic: It is believed by many professionals that there is a genetic link in the development of psychosis. People who have a family history of mental illness in which psychotic symptoms are prevalent, such as schizophrenia, are considered to be more susceptible to experiencing psychotic symptoms of a mental illness themselves.
Physical: Studies have shown that another potential cause for the development of psychosis can be the result of organic medical conditions. For example, metabolic imbalances, renal disease, neurological conditions, endocrine disorders, and autoimmune disorders all have the ability to trigger episodes of psychosis.
Environmental: When an individual experiences a trauma, excessive amounts of stress, or major life-changing events, it can lead to periods of short-term psychosis, known as brief psychotic disorder. The symptoms of a brief psychotic disorder come on suddenly, and the person who experiences them is typically able to completely recover after the episode ends.
- Suffering from significantly impaired social functioning
- Experiencing severe trauma
- Substance abuse or addiction
- Having recently given birth
- Being exposed to toxic substances
- Having a family history of psychiatric disorders
- Having a mental health disorder
- Being exposed to negative life events
Disorders Associated with Psychotic Symptoms
Schizophrenia is probably the most common mental illness associated with the presence of psychosis. Those suffering from schizophrenia experience significant misinterpretations of the world around them and have difficulty differentiating between what is real and what is not real.
Schizoaffective disorder causes those suffering from it to experience symptoms that resemble both schizophrenia and another mood disorder, such as bipolar disorder.
Bipolar disorder causes people to experience extreme mood disturbances that fluctuate between mania and depression. Both mood states can be accompanied by symptoms of psychosis, most commonly in the form of auditory or visual hallucinations.
Certain forms of dementia can cause people in the later stages of the illness to experience symptoms of psychosis, which can have significant effects on their behavior. These individuals most commonly experience visual hallucinations and paranoid delusions.
Substance abuse or withdrawing from substances can lead to the onset of intense hallucinations and other symptoms of psychosis. These effects can come on rapidly, but generally dissipate once the effects of the substance have worn off.
Physical illness: There are some different types of physical illnesses that can trigger psychosis. Illnesses that interfere with the structure and normal functioning of the brain are most likely to elicit the onset of a psychotic episode.
Postpartum psychosis: There have been instances where the act of childbirth has triggered psychosis, which causes the mother to experience symptoms within the first month after delivering her child.
Signs and Symptoms of Psychosis
The signs and symptoms of psychosis generally vary greatly from person to person depending upon the initial cause of the psychosis, the presence of a mental illness, and other individual factors. Some signs and symptoms that a person experiencing psychosis may exhibit can include:
- Hallucinations and delusions
- Extreme paranoia
- Inability to make decisions
- Self-harming behaviors
- Shakes or tremors
- Disorganized speech and behavior
- Social withdrawal
- Bizarre and/or inappropriate behaviors
- Being overly emotional or being incapable of showing any emotion
- Neglecting personal hygiene
- Not responding to external stimuli
- Losing interest in things one used to enjoy
- Thoughts of suicide
Treatment for Psychosis
For individuals who are experiencing active psychosis, acute inpatient hospitalization can be one of the best options for receiving thorough treatment because they are able to receive around-the-clock supervision as well as proper medication to help stabilize their symptoms. Antipsychotic medications are an important component to successfully treating psychosis because not only do they reduce current symptoms, but they can also help prevent the risk of future psychotic episodes. While medications cannot cure psychosis, they provide individuals who are struggling with these debilitating symptoms the ability to function on a daily basis.
At Greenleaf Behavioral Health Hospital, we understand that this is a difficult time for you and that the effects of psychosis can be extremely terrifying for everyone involved. Upon arrival at our treatment center, we will conduct a thorough evaluation in order to identify all of your specific treatment needs. Our highly trained staff work to develop comprehensive treatment plans that guide our clients through their recovery process. Programming within our acute inpatient hospital is designed to provide exceptional treatment and therapeutic interventions in a safe environment, sending clients from our door onto the path to recovery.