Despite the popular usage of the word, psychosis is little understood outside the realm of professionals. The word conjures images of Norman Bates from “Psycho” or a crazy killer in some B rated horror flick. These images are not only inaccurate, they are often stigmatizing to those who suffer from psychosis.
Psychosis in clinical terms is an impairment of thoughts. In basic terms, it means that the person has a hard time figuring out reality from fantasy. This can happen in many ways including hallucinations, delusions or paranoia. It can also show up as very disorganized thinking. Hallucinations are seeing, hearing or feeling things that aren’t really there. The most common hallucination is an auditory one in which the person hears voices when no one is speaking. Delusions are having the belief that something is true when it is not such as believing that they are a famous person when they are not. Paranoia is feeling that something or someone is thinking bad things about them or going to harm them when they are not.
Contrary to the popular conception, people who suffer from psychosis are not commonly criminals. In fact, many people are incredibly shy about being around other people because of the struggles they have in figuring out what is real and what is not.
There can be many different causes of psychosis. The most well-known is schizophrenia which is characterized by a cluster of psychotic symptoms such as disorganized thinking, hallucinations, delusions, paranoia, or even odd motor activities such as staying in one position for many days in a row without moving with is called catatonia. While there is no definitive understanding of what exactly causes schizophrenia, psychologists do know that it often runs in families which gives it a genetic component and that is causes a unique neurological pattern.
Other causes of psychosis can be schizoaffective disorder which affects thought and mood, some forms of bipolar disorder, extreme postpartum depression, aspects of dementia, and some neurological medical conditions.
The best treatment of psychosis is to either treat the underlying condition (if that is what is causing it) or to use a special category of medication called antipsychotics. These medications can be incredibly effective, but they are also very strong and so regular care from a prescribing physician is necessary. Taken safely, these medications can completely correct any symptoms of psychosis and many individuals who would have been institutionalized for their entire lives in the past now live fulfilling and symptom-free lives.