Most of us are used to way life is organized. In fact, we rely on them. For instance, the way traffic light moves from green to yellow to red is a pattern that keeps the roads safe and orderly. This small detail, like so many others in life, helps the world function, for the most part, with ease.
Imagine if you were to lose your sense of order. What if one day you woke up to a mind that was not as structured as it was before and life suddenly felt different?
The experience of psychosis is a loss of contact with reality and including either hallucinations or delusions. A hallucination is a form of sensory experience that others cannot perceive. In other words, it could be an experience of hearing voices or seeing things that others don’t see. Delusions, on the other hand, are false beliefs that might be shaped by paranoia, such as “The FBI is after my family.” These false beliefs continue to exist despite evidence that disproves the belief. It is important to keep in mind that both delusions and hallucinations should be considered within a cultural context. For example, within the Native American culture, it is considered normal to hear the voice of a deceased relative.
Along with experiencing a loss of contact with reality with hallucinations, delusions, or both, other symptoms that might accompany psychosis include disturbances in thought, disorganized speech, confusion, certain erratic feelings, changes in movement, unusual behavior or dress, disturbances in memory, indecisiveness, and changes in weight, sleep, and/or eating habits. Typically, some of these symptoms are quite noticeable by others, particularly when they are in response to a delusional belief hallucination.
It’s important to note that psychosis itself is not a disorder; it is one of the many symptoms of Psychotic Disorders, such as schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, and others. However, if experiences of psychosis continue over time, and if an individual meets the diagnostic criteria, he or she may be diagnosed with schizophrenia or another psychotic disorder. On the other hand, psychosis could be a short-term experience that comes on suddenly and lasts for less than one month. These cases are clinically diagnosed as a Brief Psychotic Disorder.
If someone is prone to psychosis, it is an experience that typically shows up during adolescence or early adulthood. For teens and adults alike, psychosis is an overwhelming and frightening experience, particularly if it is not part of an individual’s regular experience of life. It might feel unmanageable, alarming, and confusing.
If you’ve seen the movie A Beautiful Mind, then you might have a sense of what psychosis is. However, very few books or movies, if any, can really portray the severe and troubling challenges that psychosis presents. Nonetheless, the movie is a good visual exploration of psychosis, schizophrenia, and how it was treated in the 1940’s and 50’s. Despite the stigma that psychosis and schizophrenia carry, the movie provided insight into the dangers and challenges of this extremely challenging experience and hopefully inspired compassion for those who suffer from psychosis.
Treatment for psychosis can include therapy, medication, and even electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). ECT, formerly known as electroshock, gained widespread popularity among psychiatrists in the 1940’s and 1960’s, and it is seen in the movie A Beautiful Mind mentioned above. Today, it is used to treat severe cases of depression, Bipolar Disorder, Schizophrenia, and other forms of mental illness.
Psychosis is not an experience to be treated lightly. If you believe you have a type of Psychotic Disorder or if you’ve experienced psychosis, contact a mental health professional.
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