It can be somewhat difficult to nail down a comprehensive list of the symptoms of psychosis since so much depends on the individual and the precise problem being experienced, but some of the most common include hallucinations, delusions, and profound personality shifts. Mood swings and depressive episodes are frequently also included. Most medical and mental health professionals discuss symptoms in terms of specific psychotic episodes and disorders. Although it isn’t technically incorrect to group people suffering from various mental ailments under the broad umbrella of psychosis, this is increasingly seen as over-general and outdated. Also, looking at disorders individually can provide a more meaningful context in which to discuss specific symptoms.
Problems of Vocabulary
Psychosis is a term often thrown around in colloquial conversations and in the media and it tends to generate a lot of attention. Fictional detectives on a television show might be trying to figure out the next move of a killer suffering from some strange psychosis, for instance, or a popular teen magazine could include a quiz for readers to determine if their crush is too crazy to date because he or she “is psychotic.” Perhaps because of this, in the modern psychiatric community, the term “psychosis” isn’t usually considered a clinical term the way it may have been decades ago. In most of the scholarship and literature, it’s been replaced by other more specific words that point to defined conditions.
Psychotic Disorders Generally
Schizophrenia and bi-polar disorder are two of the most commonly diagnosed psychotic disorders in most parts of the world. A serious condition known as “psychotic depression” can also develop in some people. Sometimes these sorts of problems are genetic, or they may come as a result of fluctuating hormones or intense environmental stress. In certain instances they can also be triggered by tumors, particularly those impacting the brain, and may be exacerbated or worsened by drug and alcohol use. For most people, early symptoms that either they or those around them notice are some of the first signs of a disorder.
Hallucinations and Delusions
Hallucinations, which are sensory experiences that only exist in the mind, are often considered “classic” symptoms though the specifics can vary greatly from person to person. Most hallucinations are things that sufferers actually see and experience — images of people, sights, and sometimes even sounds and smells — that don’t actually exist outside of their minds.
Delusions, which are false beliefs brought on by mental or physical illnesses, are often closely related. People who suffer from psychotic delusions are often convinced that certain things are going to happen or will happen. In many instances these convictions are quite paranoid; people are certain they’re being followed when they’re not, for instance, or believe that their thoughts are being filtered and examined by other people or government entities.
Sufferers frequently also experience shifts in their personalities and behavior patterns. In particular, the speech and general social behavior of someone impacted by a psychotic disorder can be disorganized and even hostile, and is usually a sign of distorted thought processes that lack a rational basis. The person may even be exhibiting catatonia, which is a stupor that results in non-responsiveness and often includes either extreme muscle rigidity or flexibility.
Mood Swings and Depression
Symptoms frequently also include wild shifts in mood and extreme emotional highs and lows. People may be absolutely euphoric one moment, then nearly suicidal the next — often with little or no warning. This can go on for days or weeks at a time, and often leaves onlookers unsure of what to expect.
In nearly all cases, the symptoms of psychosis should only be interpreted by trained medical professionals. These medical professionals include medical doctors, psychiatrists, and psychologists. People who suspect that someone close to them may be psychotic should contact a professional immediately. Many hospitals have mental health help lines, and a number of community organizations can provide guidance, too. Attempting to treat or care for mentally ill people independently can be dangerous, and may even be illegal.
The exact psychotic disorder a person has is usually determined by a medical professional after a thorough exam, often using a book called the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). The DSM is published by the American Psychiatric Association (APA), and is the standard text consulted by psychiatrists and psychologists in most countries around the world. The volume is updated regularly and contains diagnostic criteria for most widely accepted mental disorders, including those considered to be psychotic disorders.