Psychosis is a condition in which an individual loses the understanding of the real world around him or her. This psychiatric condition can be symptomatic of several mental health disorders, including schizotypal disorder, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder. Delusions, strange physical behavior, disorganized thoughts, and hallucinations are some of the negative symptoms of psychosis. Individuals who have developed a substance abuse disorder also may experience psychosis as an effect of the substance abuse.

The following are some observable characteristics of psychosis:

Hallucinations cause a person to hear and see things that are not really happening. For instance, a person may hear voices that vary from his or her own internal monologue, as the voices are not controlled by his or her own thinking. Hallucinations include the perception of persons, places, or stimuli that are not actually present.

Delusions are breaks from reality that present themselves in various forms, including false beliefs that another person is in love with the delusional person, that he or she is exceptionally talented or respected, that catastrophes are imminent, that his or her health is being adversely influenced in some manner, or that harm is impending. Such a person might get the idea that his or her thoughts are coming from an outside source. People will cling to their delusions even when clear evidence proves differently.

Disorganized thinking is characterized by scattered speech that jumps between topics and gives the impression of not making any sense. The real cause is that the person is experiencing thoughts at an extremely rapid rate. On the other hand, disorganized thoughts may result in a significant slowing of thinking abilities, making communication nearly impossible.

Abnormal physical behaviors can present themselves in a variety of patterns. A psychotic person may be playful like a child or become unpredictably agitated. Sometimes, a person with psychosis can give a frozen appearance, also known as catatonia, thereby remaining unable to move in an unnatural pose or stance. This may also cause that person to not respond to outside stimuli in verbal or physical manners.  Other symptoms include behaving in a repetitive way, echoing, and staring.

Negative symptoms might include the loss of ability to behave in a way normal for humans. This is typically associated with schizophrenia spectrum disorders. Facial expressions can become diminished, known as flat face, or have a flat affect, and a person may decrease in socialization and have difficulty with speech.

Psychotic episodes can be recurring and last between a few days and a few weeks. Without treatment, psychotic episodes can cause a person to disconnect from the outside world and experience hallucinations and/or delusions, which can often cause that person to pose a threat to his or her own health or the physical safety of surrounding individuals.


The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) estimates that about 1.1 percent of the adult population in the United States will suffer from schizophrenia is any given year. According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), the lifetime prevalence of schizoaffective disorder among U.S. adults is about 0.3 percent. The APA also reports that the lifetime suicide risk among individuals with either schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder is about 5 percent.

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Causes and Risk Factors of Psychosis

The specific root of psychosis is not yet understood through research. There are a number of conditions and circumstances that may contribute to psychosis, including the following:

Genetic: Psychosis, like other mental illnesses, is often genetically predetermined. First-degree family members of psychosis sufferers have an increased chance of developing the disorder, as are individuals who are genetically predisposed to suffering from certain illnesses and other medical conditions.

Environmental: Short-term episodes of psychosis are thought to stem from extreme changes in environment. The excessive experience of stress, trauma, criminal victimization, or unexpected life changes can cause a psychotic episode.

Risk Factors:

  • Exposure to toxins or poisonous substances
  • Recent birth of child
  • Experiencing criminal victimization
  • Substance abuse
  • Poor social skills
  • Poor coping skills
  • Personal history of mental illness
  • Mental illness in the family
  • Exposure to trauma
If you feel that you are in crisis, or are having thoughts about hurting yourself or others, please call 9-1-1 or go to the nearest emergency room immediately.

Signs and Symptoms of Psychosis

A person may suffer with psychosis and exhibit a variety of signs and symptoms. The number and intensity of these symptoms will vary. Any of the following symptoms should be taken into account:


  • Response to stimuli that do not exist
  • Self-injury
  • Social isolation
  • Lack of personal hygiene


  • Motor function impairment


  • Delusional thinking
  • Seeing, hearing, and smelling hallucinations


  • Loss of interest in activities
  • Disorganized thinking and speaking
  • Depression
  • Depersonalization
  • Extreme emotions or lack of display of emotion

Effects of Psychosis

Individuals who have psychotic episodes may struggle with a variety of responsibilities and functions, and may experience the following negative outcomes:

  • Diminished academic performance
  • Occupational setbacks
  • Job loss
  • Chronic unemployment
  • Loss of financial independence
  • Increased interpersonal conflicts
  • Family discord
  • Problems with self-care
  • Medical problems due to poor nutrition and/or insufficient self-care
  • Physical harm due to reckless and/or dangerous behaviors
  • Substance abuse
  • Self-harm
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Suicide

Co-Occurring Disorders

Individuals who experience psychosis may be suffering from a variety of mental health disorders, including the following:

  • Bipolar disorder, particularly bipolar I, can cause psychotic experiences due to the severe mood fluctuations from mania to depression.
  • Schizophrenia frequently accompanies psychosis. A person’s ability to function in daily life is severely impaired in this connection, as he or she is unable to discern what is real and what is symptomatic of the psychosis or schizophrenia.
  • Schizoaffective disorder is similar to schizophrenia in symptoms. It differs from schizophrenia in that it also includes mood disorders. Psychosis is usually the most debilitating effect of this disorder.
  • Certain forms of dementia can cause delusions of paranoia and hallucinations in the more advanced stages.
  • Medical conditions that inhibit the natural function of the brain can cause the manifestation of psychotic thoughts and behavior.
  • Postpartum psychosis is psychosis that occurs following childbirth. Hormonal surge and imbalance can affect the ability of the brain to regulate moods normally. With this hormonal imbalance, a woman may go through psychotic episodes.

Psychosis Treatment

Inpatient hospitalization can most effectively treat whatever mental health disorder is causing an individual to experience psychosis. At a quality inpatient program, mental health staff and other medical professionals will provide supervised care in a safe environment. Acute inpatient hospitalization allows the patient to receive individualized care. When professionals can observe the psychosis throughout the day, each patient will be able to receive a more accurate diagnosis along with a more comprehensive treatment plan, and medications can be changed, modified and perfected on an ongoing basis. Through such care, a person will learn how to manage these symptoms, regain hope for the future, and improve his or her daily functioning abilities.

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