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What Is Psychosis: Identifying the Signs and Causes


A young woman can’t sleep at night because she’s hallucinating. She believes she’s hearing voices in her head telling her to do something she doesn’t want to do, but she just can’t make them stop. The lack of sleep and the anxiety from the hallucinations is causing her to miss classes in college. Her grades are suffering and she feels miserable.

An adult male is found wandering outside his home in the evening, yelling incoherently and at the top of his lungs. His neighbor comes out to check on him and try to calm him down by asking what’s wrong. Soon he starts yelling at her and begins a fit of rage, resulting in physical harm to her and damage to his own property.

A mother of two is so depressed she can’t even get out of bed to tend to her young children. She barely has the energy to roll over when her kids come running in the room begging her to make breakfast. As she struggles to put on her clothes for the day, she decides she doesn’t have the strength and the kids can figure out breakfast for themselves. She knows she should help them and wonders what kind of mom she is. Would they even notice if she were no longer there?

These could easily be dramatic scenes from a movie or novel, but sadly, these are illustrations of the impact an episode of psychosis can have during the ordinary moments of life. Psychosis comes in many forms and has a wide variety of facets, affecting all walks of life.

Psychosis Definition: What You Should Know

Psychosis may be one of those words you have already heard but aren’t quite sure you know what it means. Psychosis is defined as a mental state in which “you lose touch with reality and see, hear, or believe things that aren’t.”

What makes psychosis particularly difficult is that it’s actually a symptom, not a disease.

Psychosis Symptoms: What You Need to Understand

Psychosis can happen as a result of many different factors, both mental and physical. It can be brought on by the use of drugs such as marijuana or LSD. It can be a reaction to a stressful or traumatic event in life. It can also be a symptom of mental illness such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.

Psychosis is not just a symptom of mental illness, either. It can be caused by an injury to the brain or a disease that affects the neurological system such as a tumor or stroke. There are also other health conditions that can cause psychosis such as Parkinson’s disease or dementia.

While all the causes of psychosis are yet to be understood, it is thought that genetics could potentially be a factor as well.

An episode of psychosis does not discriminate with age or gender, either. It can occur in children and adolescents, young adults, and mature adults.

How to Recognize the Symptoms of Psychosis

How do you know if you or a loved one might be experiencing an episode of psychosis? What if you know something is wrong but it doesn’t quite sound like the stories listed above?

While a trained, qualified health care professional is the one that can most accurately diagnose if someone is suffering from psychosis, there are symptoms you should be aware of that warrant further evaluation.

Here are the signs to look for if you are concerned someone could be in a state of psychosis:

  • Hallucinations (can be visual, auditory, or even involve smell)
  • Difficulty concentrating at home, work, or school
  • Depression or depressed mood
  • Lack of sleep or sleeping too much
  • Anxiety
  • Loss of interest in socializing with friends and family
  • Speaking incoherently
  • Delusions
  • Suicidal thoughts

Not all of these symptoms will be present at the same time. Some symptoms may come on suddenly while other symptoms take time to present themselves. The severity of symptoms in children can differ greatly compared to what an adult might experience, too.

It’s important to note that psychosis occurs in episodes. Sometimes, you will hear these episodes referred to as a “psychotic break.” While the word “break” typically implies there is a hard stop and start in time, that may not actually be the case if someone is experiencing this. Symptoms may occur for several weeks before friends and family recognize there could be an issue.

Treatment for Psychosis: Know the Options

While the causes and symptoms of a psychotic episode are widely varied, there are specific things you can do if you think either you or someone you know could be in a state of psychosis.

Getting treatment early is the optimal approach. There is no set timeline for psychosis so it’s important to take action as soon as symptoms start to appear.

A trained professional will be an invaluable resource for getting started on the right path in managing psychosis. The good news is there are several options available and numerous resources to find the appropriate help.

Examples of these treatment options are:

  • Medications
  • Psychotherapy
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) which involves working with a mental health counselor
  • Group therapy

Depending on the psychosis symptoms, a doctor can choose to prescribe different types of medication. If the person needs help right away (i.e., they are lashing out or could potentially hurt themselves), an injection could be used. A doctor could also prescribe an antipsychotic. The duration and dosage of the medication will need to be monitored closely.

The First Step to Fully Understanding Psychosis

Familiarizing yourself with the causes, symptoms and potential treatments for psychosis is a great first step in learning about this often-misunderstood state of mind. While there is a lot of information available out there, we know it can be overwhelming and you might not know where to start.

If you think you or someone you know is suffering from psychosis, we invite you to further explore our mental health treatment services, or fill out our contact form for any questions you may have. It’s never too early to begin the discussion on treatment options.