What Is Psychosis?

Psychosis  is often defined as splitting off from reality. It's when it's difficult to tell what's real and what isn't. Psychosis isn't a condition in itself, it is the symptom of a disorder. It might be a symptom of schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or another disorder that has psychotic features. It can also be the symptom of a physical disorder; such as, a brain tumor.

When someone is developing a psychotic illness it doesn't usually happen over days or weeks. It usually develops slowly and progressively over time. There are signs to look out for that could indicate that someone is experiencing psychotic symptoms, and the sooner that person gets help and support, the better the outlook.

Who Is Most Likely to Experience Psychosis?

Young people are most at risk of developing a psychotic disorder. Psychosis often emerges in adolescence and young adulthood. There are of course other factors that can make someone more vulnerable to developing a psychotic illness.

One of the determining factors is if you have a close relative diagnosed with a condition like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, then your chances of developing these types of disorders increases significantly. There are also other factors that can increase your chances of developing a psychotic disorder:

  • being born prematurely
  • being born during the Winter months
  • living in an urban area
  • having a high arched pallet
  • suffered sexual and/or physical abuse in childhood
  • smoking marijuana
  • migrating
  • if you are an ethnic minority 

Those that do go on to develop a long-term psychiatric illness usually do so after a stressful life event. There is often a 'trigger' that initiates this in someone who is already genetically predisposed to developing a psychotic disorder. 

What Are the Early Signs of Psychosis?

The early signs of psychosis tend to be very subtle. The person may feel that 'something isn't quite right' in themselves. They may have a depressed mood or feel anxious and they might find it more difficult to concentrate than they used to. While it's not uncommon for someone to experience these changes in mood and cognition, it can be significant in hind sight when trying to establish when these changes in behavior started.

 Young people's lives are often chaotic anyway so it can be hard to discern what is 'normal' teenage behavior and what might be something more sinister. So do bear in mind that it is not uncommon for teenagers to become withdrawn or lack motivation, but if you notice that they are also experiencing some of the more unusual symptoms, then this could indicate that there is more going on.

Here Are Some of the Symptoms to Look Out For:

  • social withdrawal
  • difficulty filtering out sounds
  • apathy
  • irritability
  • emotionally flat
  • lack of motivation
  • not functioning as well as usual
  • neglecting ones self (not washing, brushing teeth etc..)
  • feeling uncomfortable around friends and family
  • suspicious of others
  • hearing whispers when no one is around
  • not finishing sentences
  • odd beliefs
  • confused thinking
  • inappropriate emotional responses
  • hearing voices ( it can start as whispers)
  • anxiety
  • depressed mood

The difference between mild (attenuated) psychotic symptoms and fully developed psychosis is that the mild symptoms come and go; they are not long-standing. Someone experiencing the mild symptoms might think; for instance, that someone 'might' be out to get them. whereas, someone experiencing fully developed psychosis will think, someone 'is' out to get them. 

If you are concerned that a loved one is displaying some of these symptoms, talk to them and see if you can find out what is going on with them. Remember, if they are paranoid or have odd beliefs don't tell them that their perceptions are wrong. This may make them angry and they will be less likely to trust  you. People that are in the grip of psychosis don't usually believe that there is anything wrong with them. This is the nature of the of the symptom.

Arrange an appointment for them to see the doctor and go with them. It might be a good idea to contact the doctor beforehand and let them know what is going on so they are prepared for the appointment.

Not everyone that experiences mild psychotic symptoms will go on to develop a psychotic disorder, but if they are in the process of developing one, the early they are assessed, the better the prognosis. Getting the right treatment early can delay or even prevent them from going on to develop a psychotic disorder.

If you fear that your family member is at risk of suicide, take them to the emergency room immediately. Those that have a psychotic disorder are at greater risk of ending their own life.

The earlier someone with a psychotic disorder gets treatment the better the prognosis and the better chance they have of leading a relatively normal life.