Psychosis includes a range of symptoms but typically involves one of these two major experiences:
Hallucinations are seeing, hearing or feeling things that aren’t there, such as the following:
- Hearing voices (auditory hallucinations)
- Strange sensations or unexplainable feelings
- Seeing glimpses of objects or people that are not there or distortions
Delusions are strong beliefs that are not consistent with the person’s culture, are unlikely to be true and may seem irrational to others, such as the following:
- Believing external forces are controlling thoughts, feelings and behaviors
- Believing that trivial remarks, events or objects have personal meaning or significance
- Thinking you have special powers, are on a special mission or even that you are God.
We are still learning about how and why psychosis develops, but several factors are likely involved. We do know that teenagers and young adults are at increased risk of experiencing an episode of psychosis because of hormonal changes in their brain during puberty.
Several factors that can contribute to psychosis:
Genetics. Many genes can contribute to the development of psychosis, but just because a person has a gene doesn’t mean they will experience psychosis. Ongoing studies will help us better understand which genes play a role in psychosis.
Trauma. A traumatic event such as a death, war or sexual assault can trigger a psychotic episode. The type of trauma—and a person’s age—affects whether a traumatic event will result in psychosis.
Substance use. The use of marijuana, LSD, amphetamines and other substances can increase the risk of psychosis in people who are already vulnerable.
Physical illness or injury. Traumatic brain injuries, brain tumors, strokes, HIV and some brain diseases such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and dementia can sometimes cause psychosis.
Mental health conditions. Sometimes psychosis is a symptom of a condition like schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, bipolar disorder or depression.
A diagnosis identifies an illness; symptoms are components of an illness. Health care providers draw on information from medical and family history and a physical examination to diagnose someone. If causes such as a brain tumor, infection or epilepsy are ruled out, a mental illness might be the reason.
If the cause is related to a mental health condition, early diagnosis and treatment provide the best hope of recovery. Research shows that the earlier people experiencing psychosis receive treatment, the better their long-term quality of life.
Early or first-episode psychosis
Early treatment of psychosis, especially during the first episode, leads to the best outcomes.
Research has shown significant success using a treatment approach called Coordinated Specialty Care (CSC). CSC uses a team of health professionals and specialists who work with a person to create a personal treatment plan based on life goals while involving family members as much as possible.
CSC has the following key components:
- Case management
- Family support and education
- Medication management
- Supported education and employment
- Peer support
- Psychosis treatment
Traditional treatment for psychosis involves psychotherapy and medication. Several types of therapy have successfully helped individuals learn to manage their condition. In addition, medication targets symptoms and helps reduce their impact.
Psychosis can be related to several mental health conditions:
- Psychotic Depression
- Bipolar Disorder
- Schizoaffective Disorder
- Substance Abuse