The word psychosis is used to describe conditions which affect the mind, where there is some loss of contact with reality. Psychosis varies greatly and the term covers a number of related illnesses.
When someone becomes ill in this way and loses contact with reality it is called a psychotic episode. People who have experienced this often call it spinning out or going off the planet.
With time and the right treatment, most people make a full recovery from the experience. Many may never have another episode. A minority experience psychotic symptoms on a daily basis.
Psychosis is most likely to occur in young adults and is quite common. Around 3 out of every 100 people will experience a psychotic episode making psychosis more common than diabetes.
Psychosis can happen to anyone. Like any other illness it can be treated.
A number of theories have been suggested as to what causes psychosis, but there is still much research to be done. It may be a combination of factors.
It is commonly believed that a psychotic episode occurs due to a disturbance in how the brain normally functions. Our brain works by sending chemical messages from one part to another. When someone develops psychosis this may be due to a chemical imbalance in the brain, perhaps sending too much or too little chemical messages. Medication for psychosis works by trying to compensate for this chemical imbalance.
These may include genetic vulnerability suggesting that in some instances it may be inherited, or physical factors such as impairment of the nervous system during very early development.
Stress, drug abuse or social change
Symptoms of psychosis often emerge in response to these. These are not causes of psychosis but it does seem that if you have a vulnerability then you may experience a psychotic episode.
At this stage we cannot predict who will or who will not develop a psychosis. It has been suggested that if you have a vulnerability then to reduce stress in your life may assist you from having an episode.
Symptoms vary a lot from person to person, however, there are a number of quite common categories of symptoms.-some of these you will have experienced, others you may not have.
Symptoms usually include changes in your thoughts, feelings and behaviours, making it hard for other people to understand you.
In order to try to understand the experience of psychosis it is useful to group together some of the more characteristic symptoms.
Problems in thinking
You may have difficulty organising your thoughts, everyday thoughts become confused or don’t join up properly. Sentences are unclear or don’t make sense. You may have difficulty concentrating, following a conversation or remembering things. Thoughts seem to speed up or slow down. You may believe that your thoughts are being interfered with in some way.
False beliefs or delusions
It is common for a person experiencing a psychotic episode to hold false beliefs known as delusions. You may be so convinced of your delusion, that the most logical argument cannot make you change their mind. It seems real to you but does not seem real to other people. For example someone may be convinced from the way the cars are parked outside their house that they are being watched by the police.
In psychosis the person sees, hears, feels, smells or tastes something that is not actually there and no one else has the same experience. For example you may hear voices which no one else can hear, or see things which aren’t there. Things may taste or smell as if they are bad or even poisoned. These hallucinations are very real to you. The voices you hear may tell you to do certain things or may be abusive or funny.