Psychosis is a widely misunderstood condition. The term is often used interchangeably with the term psychopath and other mental health disorders, and its symptoms can vary based on the disorder causing them. Psychosis can occur with several different mental health problems, including those induced by certain substances. Psychotic symptoms can be intense, and experiencing them may be disturbing. But psychosis can be treated, along with the mental health disorders it is associated with.
Several factors can cause psychosis and different types a person can experience. Learn more about psychosis, its causes, symptoms, and treatment below.
What Is Psychosis?
Psychosis refers to uncomfortable symptoms either mental health disorders or certain psychoactive drugs cause. Psychosis isn’t a disorder. Rather, it’s a state that someone enters as they lose touch with reality. When psychosis is left untreated, its symptoms can become debilitating.
Psychotic symptoms are generally divided into two categories: positive and negative symptoms. You may associate the terms positive and negative with good and bad. But in this case, it means something is being added or taken away.
What Are the Types of Psychosis?
Psychosis involves a complex set of different kinds of symptoms. Some are widely known, like hallucinations. But there are also lesser-known symptoms, such as concentration problems and social isolation. Mental health disorders that cause psychosis are often complex, and they may cause various symptom profiles. Not everyone who goes through psychotic symptoms will experience the full range of possible symptoms. For instance, manic episodes can sometimes cause psychosis. Mania is often associated with delusions, but hallucinations are less common.
The fact that two people can experience very different symptom profiles is part of what makes psychotic disorders so difficult to diagnose. Psychotic symptoms are separated into two major categories: positive and negative symptoms. Positive symptoms are further broken down into the categories of delusions and hallucinations.
In some cases, the types of psychosis you experience can help with diagnosis, and it may inform your treatment options. As a general rule, it’s important to make a note of each symptom you experience and let your doctor know. Not only do symptoms inform diagnosis, but they may also help you find the right treatment for your needs.
What Are the Positive Symptoms of Psychosis?
Positive symptoms involve something that is added to your normal experience that impairs your ability to function socially or occupationally. They also change and warp your perception of reality. Positive symptoms refer to hallucinations and delusions. In many cases, they occur together. Though sometimes, as in bipolar disorder, they don’t occur at the same time.
Delusions are false beliefs you hold even when evidence is presented that contradicts them. Delusions may also continue even if they aren’t logical and might seem illogical to you when you are not experiencing a psychotic episode. Delusions are genuinely felt to be true, and they aren’t obsessive thoughts. While you’re experiencing these false beliefs, it may be hard to shake them with reason.
Multiple types of delusions are distinguished based on the subject of false belief. For instance, thinking a celebrity is in love with you, even though you never met them, is called an erotomanic delusion. There are six major categories of delusional thinking, and they can also mix together, which is when a delusion fits in multiple categories.
The six major categories include:
- Somatic. Somatic delusions are beliefs that you have a disease or physical defect, even if there are medical reasons for you to be afraid. The belief may continue, even if doctors run tests and find nothing wrong.
- Erotomanic. An erotomanic delusion is a belief someone is in love with you, and it often involves famous people. In some cases, this is associated with behavioral problems like stalking.
- Jealous. Jealous delusions are beliefs that your partner is cheating on you, even if it’s not true and there are no real signs of unfaithfulness.
- Grandiose. Grandiosity or delusions of grandeur involve an inflated sense of self-importance. You may believe you are invincible or have abilities no one else has. It often involves the belief that only you can handle certain tasks.
- Persecutory. Persecutory beliefs are when you believe people are out to get you, whether they are government organizations, individuals, or even your friends and family members.
- Mixed. Mixed symptoms involve a combination of things. For instance, you may believe someone is in love with you because you are uniquely gifted, which would be a mix of erotomanic and grandiose delusion.
What Are Hallucinations?
Hallucinations involve a loss of reality in your senses. When experiencing a hallucination, you may see, hear, touch, or smell things that aren’t actually there.
Hallucinations have a number of causes, ranging from complex issues like psychological disorders and certain substances to common factors like extreme stress or lack of sleep. They can be incredibly disturbing experiences. Even if the things you see or hear aren’t scary, the idea of losing touch with reality can be. Many people who have disorders that cause hallucinations don’t realize the things they see and hear aren’t real.
Often, hallucinations occur along with delusions. Many people experience hallucinations in the form of voices that command them to do negative or harmful things. They may also hear voices that degrade them or convince them that others are conspiring against them. Visual hallucinations can be as basic as seeing something out of the corner of your eye or seeing fully formed objects, animals, or people.
Hallucinations can continue long after receiving treatment and becoming aware that they aren’t real. That being said, there are better ways to cope. For example, mathematician John F. Nash, Jr., learned to deal with his hallucinations through intellectual rejection.
Other Positive Symptoms
Other positive psychosis symptoms include disorganized behaviors and disorganized speech.
Disorganized behavior is illogical and erratic. This can include unpredictable irritability, childlike behavior, and extreme emotional reactions, such as laughing loudly during a somber moment. Many people who exhibit disorganized behavior dress inappropriately for the weather, like wearing a warm coat on a hot day, and have trouble starting or finishing tasks.
Disorganized speech is also referred to as word salad. You may have difficulty expressing thoughts, and they come out incoherently. Several thoughts may cross your mind at the same time, making it hard to focus on a single thought. Eventually, you may become withdrawn and quiet to avoid speaking unclearly.
What Are the Negative Symptoms of Psychosis?
The negative symptoms of psychosis are lesser-known, possibly because they are often less intense than the positive symptoms. Negative symptoms include features that are removed from a typical functional mental capacity. These types of symptoms may be harder to notice, especially if you also have positive symptoms like hallucinations. Negative symptoms may be similar to other mental health issues, including common issues like depression.
The following are some examples of negative psychotic symptoms:
- Concentration problems. Many mental health issues can affect concentration, but they may also be tied to disorganized thinking psychosis causes.
- Social isolation. This is another symptom common in many mental health issues. However, psychotic symptoms can make you feel cut off or distant from the people around you.
- Low energy levels. This is common in depression and other mood disorders. However, it’s also seen issues like schizophrenia.
- Flat affect. This can also be called emotional flatness. Your emotional range has fewer peaks and valleys. You may have no visible emotional reaction even to very disturbing or exciting news.
What Causes Psychosis?
Existing mental health disorders can induce psychosis, certain psychoactive drugs, and even high-stress situations can induce psychosis. Many people who experience brief psychotic episodes are going through periods of extreme stress. However, recurring or prolonged psychotic episodes that inhibit normal life may point to something more than stress. Other common causes of psychosis include:
- Schizophrenia. Schizophrenia is among the most common causes of psychosis. Schizophrenia symptoms, such as hallucinations, also appear during psychotic episodes.
- Schizoaffective disorder. Schizoaffective disorder combines symptoms of schizophrenia, such as hallucinations, and mood disorder symptoms, such as mania. It is a mix between schizophrenia and depression. Those who experience psychosis may also experience depression symptoms.
- Bipolar mania. Bipolar disorder can cause mania symptoms, depending on the type of bipolar someone has. Mania is a period of elevated mood, high energy, and decreased need for sleep. Severe mania can also cause delusional thinking, that’s often seen in psychosis. You may even experience delusions of grandeur or paranoid delusions.
- Bipolar depression. Once the mania begins to fade, bipolar disorder causes periods of severe depression. Symptoms of bipolar depression include isolation from loved ones, feelings of worthlessness, or suicidal thoughts. In some cases, depressive episodes can cause persecutory delusions that feed into depressive thoughts. For example, someone experiencing these symptoms may believe their loved ones are conspiring against them, causing them to further isolate themselves.
How Is Psychosis Treated?
Because psychosis is a set of symptoms and not a disorder, treatment will depend on the disorder causing the psychotic episodes. That being said, a few antipsychotic medications are commonly used to treat psychotic symptoms.
For example, first-generation antipsychotics may relieve some symptoms, such as hallucinations, but worsen others, such as flat affect. While still relatively new, second-generation antipsychotics may be able to treat symptoms with fewer side effects. Because of this, psychosis can be treated based on the disorder that causes it.