What is Psychosis? - Symptoms & Definition

Instructor: Quentin Shires

Quentin has taught psychology and other social science classes at the university level and is considered a doctoral colleague at Capella University.

In this lesson learn what psychosis is and how it is defined on a clinical level. Afterwards, take a quiz to see if you have what it takes to identify psychosis.

Definition of Psychosis

In June of 2001, Andrea Yates, a mother living in Houston, Texas, drowned all of her five children in a bathtub in less than an hour. Months later, Yates was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to life in prison. Situations often arise where we find ourselves asking how people can do such horrific things. Andrea Yates suffered from an episode of psychosis.

Psychosis is a medical condition that affects the mind and can cause a loss of contact with reality through the experience of hallucinations, delusions, illogical thinking patterns and exaggerated emotions. Research has shown that three out of 100 individuals will experience psychosis in their lifetime, with symptoms usually starting anywhere between the ages of 16 and 25.

History of Psychosis

The word psychosis dates back to 1841, where Karl Friedrich Canstatt decided that a more clinical term was needed than being called 'insane'. During the 19th century, very little was known about psychosis, other than it was a disease of the nervous system that manifested in the brain. Along with Canstatt was another clinician named Ernst von Feuchtersleben, who went a step further and used the term to include bouts of insanity and mania.

Today, psychosis is a common term and should not entirely be confused with other mental health diagnoses, such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, which can present as entirely different sets of mental health problems.

Psychosis is a medical condition that affects the mind and can distort our view on reality.

Symptoms of Psychosis

If you are considering whether someone you know is experiencing psychosis, there are many symptoms to watch out for. Symptoms are typically presented in what are called positive and negative categories. Positive symptoms are added changes in one's thoughts and feelings, whereas negative symptoms focus more on a reduction or lessened response on an experience.

Positive Symptoms of Psychosis

If you are worried that someone you know is experiencing psychosis, look for positive symptoms, which include delusions, hallucinations and a period of disorganized speech or behavior.

To identify a delusion, simply look at a person's beliefs and see if they are in contrast with their environment and/or culture. For example, people suspected of suffering from psychosis may have a feeling that someone is following or watching them repeatedly. They may feel that they have supernatural abilities or that the television is sending personalized messages just for them.

Hallucinations may be a little easier to spot, as individuals with psychosis experience visual, auditory, tactile and olfactory senses that are not visible in their environment. The most common form of hallucinations in teenagers, for example, is that of an auditory nature. For instance, a teenager suffering from psychosis may hear music or someone speaking, when in fact this is not occurring. It is typically the individual's behavior to the response of the hallucination that is noticeable. Other signs include the person talking to himself or herself or talking to someone else who is not there.

Individuals with psychosis may exhibit disorganized speech and behavior patterns that include going off on tangents, asking questions that are not related to a particular topic being discussed and also easily getting off of topic. More behavioral responses to look out for are bizarre in nature and could include the person dressing in clothes that don't fit the weather or having difficulties performing daily living activities, such as bathing, cleaning and/or using the facilities.

Negative Symptoms of Psychosis

Negative symptoms of psychosis focus on decreased functions. They typically form in easy-to-recognize symptoms in which afflicted individuals having difficulty expressing appropriate emotions for the environment they're in. For example, a joke might be told and everyone else in the room may laugh, except the person with psychosis.

Noticing the negative symptoms is important because it deals with changes in motivation levels and reduced intensity of emotions. Also keep in mind that other mental health issues could flare up, warning you that psychosis might be occurring. Bouts of depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts and/or behaviors and even alcohol and drug use can indicate that a psychosis could be occurring.

Treating Psychosis

Psychosis can be highly treatable. A psychiatrist and/or mental health therapist can diagnose the condition and start treating the symptoms. There are many ways that psychosis can be treated, with a combination of therapies that include medication and psychotherapy.

Medication Regimens

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