Published November 20, 2014
Usually caused by an associated health or psychiatric condition, psychosis can greatly debilitate the daily lives of children, teenagers and adults alike, according to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Psychosis is a comprehensive medical term used to describe a disconnect with reality, usually marked by delusions and hallucinations. Due to psychosis, an individual may have difficulty with interpersonal relationships, decision making and appropriate behavior in social settings. In severe cases, people with psychosis may not be able to live alone. With the help of medical intervention and community support, psychosis can be treated or managed for the safety and comfort of the individual.
Psychosis is typically characterized by delusions and hallucinations. Hallucinations occur when a person experiences a sensory perception without any external cause. For example, someone experiencing a visual hallucination might believe they see a person who is not actually present — or does not exist. Delusions are strong, usually irrational beliefs firmly held by the individual. There are various types of delusions, and each one is classified according to the nature of the belief. Someone with delusions of paranoia is convinced that an individual or group is plotting to harm them. Grandiose delusions result in an exaggerated sense of importance and self-worth. Healthy people who believe they are dying of a terminal illness suffer from somatic delusions.
The symptoms of psychosis can greatly impair an person’s quality of life. In addition to delusions and hallucinations, symptoms include disorganized thought and speech. Someone with psychosis may experience thoughts that jump erratically from one topic to another, a process known as disordered thinking. Others close to the psychotic individual may perceive that individual exhibiting unusual behavior. Psychosis can also result in social seclusion, sometimes to the point of complete withdrawal.
While psychosis is generally assumed to stem from a psychiatric disorder, a disconnect from reality may indicate an underlying health condition or long term substance abuse. Alcohol and drug abuse occasionally results in psychosis, even during periods of withdrawal. Prescription drugs like steroids or other stimulants occasionally cause delusions and hallucinations. Psychosis can be a symptom of physical illness, such as brain tumors, HIV, or degenerative brain conditions, including Parkinson’s and Alzeheimer’s disease.
Many individuals experience psychosis as part of a psychiatric disorder. Psychosis can manifest in mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder, personality disorders (such as schizophrenia), delusional disorder and psychotic forms of depression.
Treatment varies according to the underlying cause of psychosis. Antipsychotic medications alleviate symptoms fairly effectively, regardless of the cause. However, the appropriate antipsychotic drug may vary depending upon the condition. The cause will also determine the duration of treatment. In some cases, psychosis can be treated quickly and effectively with medication. People with chronic illnesses, such as schizophrenia, will likely require antipsychotic medications for the rest of their lives.
Supplemental therapies may also help improve the quality of life for someone with psychosis. In addition to drug therapy, workshops on social skills or job training can help the individual adjust to work life. People with psychosis often need in-home assistance as well as other forms of community support to remain safe and comfortable. Unfortunately, many individuals with psychosis live without adequate family support or financial resources to help them cope. Social programs can assist people with psychosis and help them cope with daily challenges.