Psychosis is a medical term used to describe serious mental disorders that cause an individual to lose touch with reality. Those who have psychosis tend to experience delusions and hallucinations, as well as disorganized thought patterns. Additionally, these individuals may see things that are not really there, hear things that other people cannot hear, and perceive threats that do not actually exist. However, it is important to understand that to the person experiencing these things, it is very real and, in most cases, the person does not understand that no one else is experiencing what he or she is experiencing. People in a state of psychosis are completely disconnected from their true surroundings and may behave in ways that are grossly inappropriate to the situations that they are in. In some instances, individuals with psychosis are unable to speak coherently or understand what others are saying. For some, psychosis will only last for a few days or weeks, but for others it can be a chronic condition. Typically a common symptom of a mental health disorder such as schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, and bipolar disorder, experiencing a psychotic break typically indicates that an individual should be evaluated as soon as possible.
Characteristics of Psychosis
The features of psychosis can range from hallucinations and delusions to movement and thought disorders, as described in the following:
Hallucinations are false or distorted sensory experiences that appear very real to an individual with psychosis. Hallucinations can include visual, auditory, or olfactory experiences that are not really there.
Delusions are characterized by an unshakeable and irrational belief in something that is not true. Individuals who are having delusions continue to believe their delusional thoughts despite the fact that they have no basis in reality, even when presented with evidence that proves that their beliefs are, in fact, false. This lack of understanding and abnormality in a person’s thought process often results in the development of extreme paranoia.
Catatonic behavior occurs when people experience a complete lack of motor activity or an inappropriate excess of motor activity. Individuals can be completely rigid and unable to move, or in constant motion.
Disorganized behavior is characterized by behavior that is unpredictable, abnormal, and inappropriate to the current environment. When people are experiencing episodes of disorganized behavior, they may act overly childlike and silly or angry and overly aggressive. Other examples of disorganized behavior can include cyclical motioning, echoing, and inappropriate staring.
Disorganized thinking, in simplest terms, is the failure to be able to think straight. Those who are experiencing disorganized thinking may have thoughts that come and go quickly, be unable to concentrate on one thought for very long, and are unable to focus. Additionally, people suffering from this particular feature of psychosis have thinking that is either slowed so drastically that they feel as though they are not having any thoughts at all, or their thinking is occurring at such a rapid pace that their minds are overwhelmed by different ideas and emotions. When going through a period of disorganized thinking, people are unable to connect their thoughts into appropriate sequences, making it extremely difficult for them to communicate.
Causes and Risk Factors for Psychosis
As is the case with most psychiatric disorders, there is not any one specific cause that has been identified as leading to the onset of psychosis. Instead, it is thought that there are a combination of factors that work together that lead to its development, depending on the specific type of disorder that a person is suffering from. Some of the most commonly cited causes and risk factors for psychosis can include:
Genetic: The development of psychosis in an individual is believed by many professionals in the field to have a strong genetic component, as people who have a family history of mental illnesses in which symptoms of psychosis are prevalent are considered to be more susceptible to experiencing psychotic symptoms as well.
Physical: Scientific studies have shown that some physical illnesses or medical conditions can cause psychosis to occur. Medical conditions such as metabolic imbalances, neurological conditions, endocrine disorders, autoimmune disorders, and renal disease have all been known to cause psychosis. Additionally, illness such as brain tumors, AIDS, and encephalitis can also increase the risk for psychosis.
Environmental: Episodes of short-term psychosis, also known as brief psychotic disorder, have been known to come about in reaction to major life stress. Experiencing a trauma, a death in the family, or being subjected to violence are some such examples. When people suffer from brief psychotic disorder, they experience the onset of symptoms suddenly and are usually able to completely recover once the episode ends.
- Family history of mental illness
- Personal history of mental illness
- Use of or withdrawal from drugs or alcohol
- Being exposed to toxic substances
- Having recently given birth
- Having impaired social functioning
- Experiencing a traumatic event or a series of traumatic events
Disorders Associated with Psychosis
Some of the major disorders associated with psychosis include:
Schizophrenia: This disorder is most commonly associated with psychosis due to the fact that when individuals suffer from schizophrenia, they experience gross misrepresentations of the world around them, causing difficulty with distinguishing between what is real and what is not.
Schizoaffective disorder: This mental illness causes individuals to experience symptoms that resemble both schizophrenia and another mood disorder. Psychosis is one of the most debilitating symptoms that those with schizoaffective disorder experience.
Bipolar disorder: Bipolar disorder causes extreme shifts in mood, fluctuating between depression and mania. Both depressive and manic episodes can be accompanied by symptoms of psychosis, typically in the form of visual or auditory hallucinations.
Physical illnesses: Many times physical illnesses that interfere with the structure and normal functioning of the brain can trigger the onset of a psychotic episode.
Postpartum psychosis occurs when a woman experiences a psychotic break following the act of childbirth. Women may experience such symptoms at random points throughout the first month following the delivery of the baby.
Substance abuse: The abuse of alcohol or drugs can cause psychosis, especially during the withdrawal period when one may experience the onset of hallucinations, delusions, and irrational fears.
Signs and Symptoms of Psychosis
The signs and symptoms of psychosis will vary greatly amongst those suffering from it, depending on the cause that initiated the onset of the psychotic break, the presence of a mental illness, and other individual factors unique to the person, such as one’s temperament and personality. Examples of common signs and symptoms of psychosis include:
- Social withdrawal
- Irritability or anger
- Extreme paranoia
- Visual, auditory, and olfactory hallucinations
- Loss of energy
- Reduced concentration or attention
- Memory problems
- Shakes / tremors
- Little display of emotions
- Bizarre and inappropriate behaviors
- Lack of hygiene
- Responding to nonexistent external stimuli
- Disorganized speech and behavior
- Participating in self-harming behaviors
- Loss of interest in things one used to be interested in
- Suicidal thoughts or behaviors
Treatment for Psychosis
Since individuals who are in the middle of a psychotic episode are at an increased risk for putting themselves and others in harm’s way, an acute inpatient hospitalization rehab, like Vermilion’s behavioral health clinic in Lafayette, Lousiana is one of the most beneficial ways for getting them the immediate care that they need. Upon admittance, a team of mental health specialists will work towards determining the cause of the psychosis and lay out a proper treatment plan. An inpatient treatment clinic will provide patients with around-the-clock supervision, as well as any needed medication and psychotherapy. The staff at Vermilion’s treatment rehab are able to administer and monitor appropriate medications in order to help stabilize the person, often prescribing antipsychotic medications to help alleviate the immediate symptoms and reduce the risk of future episodes. Additionally, psychotherapy can be beneficial at helping patients cope with stressful situations that may have led to the development of psychosis, or help individuals learn the skills needed to function on a daily basis. With the treatment offered at Vermilion Behavioral Health, those suffering from psychosis usually improve and, depending upon the cause, even get better.