‘Psychosis’ is the term used to describe mental health problems that prevent an individual from thinking clearly and from being able to lucidly identify fact from fantasy. While psychosis is not diagnosed as a disorder itself, it is typically triggered by other conditions and so is usually identified by two symptoms; hallucinations and delusions.
Seeing, hearing or physically feeling something that isn’t there is known as a hallucination. Hallucinations may include:
- Seeing things that other people don’t – This could include a vision of an animal or religious figure, seeing people’s faces or viewing objects as distorted or as moving in a way that they wouldn’t normally.
- Hearing voices – The voices could be those of loved ones or complete strangers. There may be a single voice or many, and they could be kind and sensitive or malicious and intimidating.
- Experiencing sensations that other people don’t – Often psychosis can stimulate tastes, smells and sensations that aren’t really occurring. An example of this would be to feel someone touching your hair when there is no one there, or smelling a strong scent such as petrol, when others cannot.
A delusion is a belief that is unlikely to be true and which others don’t share. Delusions often fall into one of the following two categories:
- Delusions of grandeur – Delusions of grandeur tend to revolve around the belief that you are incredibly important, rich and/or powerful. For example, perhaps you believe you are a member of the royal family, or that you have special powers and are on a mission. In some cases, individuals believe themselves to be God.
- Paranoid delusions – Paranoid delusions can be incredibly frightening and can lead to you feeling mistrustful, threatened and suspicious. You may believe you are being followed, that someone is trying to kill you or that you are being controlled.
In addition to hallucinations and delusions, psychosis can also include:
- Disorganised thinking and speech – Hallucinations and delusions can make your thoughts and emotions confused and disorganised. A psychotic episode may trigger disturbed and disrupted patterns of thought, leading to rapid and constant speech, abrupt halts in train of thought and erratic digressions in the conversation topic.
- Lack of insight – A person experiencing psychosis may be unable to recognise that their behaviour is in any way bizarre or out of character. For example, an individual being treated for psychosis in a psychiatric ward may comment that their fellow patients are mentally unwell while they are perfectly healthy in mind and body.
This combination of symptoms can severely disrupt and alter thoughts, emotions, behaviour and awareness. In addition, each individual’s experience of psychosis will be unique. Some may experience psychosis only once, others will go through a number of short bouts and some individuals will live with psychosis long-term.
While there is no one-size-fits-all remedy, with the right support and treatment, it is possible to manage the symptoms and/or make a recovery. In many cases, the symptoms won’t vanish entirely and you may experience them from time to time – but with the right support and advice you can find ways of coping so that they are less distressing and disruptive.
If you have experienced a very severe episode of psychosis and are feeling distressed, you may require treatment as an inpatient. In hospital you can receive around the clock care and support to help you get back on your feet.