Psychosis & Psychotic Episodes

When you or someone you love experiences psychosis or psychotic episodes, it can be confusing and frightening.
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Understanding these conditions and their stigma is crucial to supporting your loved one and finding an effective treatment.   

Here, we explore what psychosis and psychotic episodes are, what they are not, and why the stigma around them is so dangerous. 

What is Psychosis? 

Psychosis is a collection of symptoms that cause the person experiencing them to feel disconnected from reality. These symptoms can increase in severity and become psychotic episodes. 

Three percent of people will experience an episode of psychosis in their lifetimes, which is why bringing more understanding to this condition is so important. Men and women experience psychosis equally; however, it seems to affect men at an earlier age than women. 

Psychosis can develop quickly or gradually, and the first signs typically show up in adolescence. Symptoms of psychosis are categorized as either positive or negative and may include delusions, hallucinations, difficulty concentrating and reduced motivation. Individuals may also experience mood changes, suicidal thoughts, and sleep disturbances.  

Psychotic episodes occur in three phases. During the first phase, known as the prodrome phase, an individual may have difficulty processing information and focusing. They may notice shifts in perception and feel depressed or disconnected. This phase can last between several months to a year. 

The individual may exhibit characteristic psychosis symptoms in the acute phase, including hallucinations, delusions, or odd behaviour. It is essential to seek treatment during this phase as soon as possible.  

The acute phase is followed by a recovery phase, where symptoms decrease, and the individual can cope with their day-to-day life. Recovery can occur within a few months, and most individuals can successfully recover depending on the treatment. 

Causes & Risk Factors 

Some types of psychosis are brought on by specific circumstances, such as extreme stress or head injury. Additional risk factors include genetics and prolonged lack of sleep. 

Psychosis can also be triggered by substance use — from too much, an adverse reaction, or withdrawal. In some cases, drug use can exacerbate an underlying mental illness, leading to substance-induced psychotic disorder. To learn more about cannabis-induced psychosis visit this website, an award-winning project of the Schizophrenia Society of Canada. 

Psychosis can exist on its own, or it can be a symptom of a psychotic disorder, such as: 

Treatment of Psychosis 

Psychosis is treatable, and most people experience improvement through a combination of medication, therapy, and social support.  

Antipsychotic medications are often effective for managing hallucinations and may be taken for a short period or ongoing until the individual can manage their symptoms. 

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is an effective method of coping with the intrusive thoughts and behaviours that can accompany psychosis. It is often used to help in situations when medication cannot fully address the situation. 

Individuals with psychosis experience social isolation more than any other diagnostic group (BMC Psychiatry, 2020). For this reason, social support from friends and peers is critical, as it allows for improved treatment adherence, self-efficacy and overall quality of life.  

Stigma Around Psychosis 

People living with psychosis may experience stereotyping, prejudice, and discrimination stigmas. Researchers have identified three different types of stigma: 

  • Public stigma involves the negative or discriminatory attitude others have about mental illness or individuals with psychosis.  
  • Self-stigma occurs when individuals experiencing psychosis have internalized shame, resulting in low self-esteem, depression, and anxiety, thus preventing these individuals from seeking help and receiving treatment. 
  • Institutional stigma is systemic stigma that involves government policies that intentionally or unintentionally limit opportunities for people with mental illness, such as mental health services relative to other health care. 

Stigma not only directly affects individuals experiencing psychosis but also the ones who support them, often including their family members. Sadly, organizations established to assist those experiencing psychosis are not immune to stigma. For more information on why stigma around psychosis is a sign of a broken mental health care system and not the individual’s fault, read this article from the National Alliance on Mental Health. 

Psychosis Recovery 

Recovery from psychosis IS possible and early intervention is key. Because recovery can be impacted by the number and length of episodes, it is important to seek effective help immediately. Protective factors such as empathetic and supportive family and friends, a prosocial environment, a growth mindset, and the willingness to develop coping strategies will all impact recovery. Medication is only one tool in the recovery toolbox and will have the greatest potential for recovery if other factors are present. 

Help Us Help Others 

Click here to learn how Eli’s Place plans to help those affected by psychosis and other serious mental illnesses.  

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