What is Psychosis?

By Navid Amarlou
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There is a great deal of misinformation about psychosis. And for those suffering through this,  being confronted with such stereotypes may create a feeling of insecurity and uncertainty about their mental health and their perception of the world around them.  So to tackle the issue it is important to first understand what psychosis is.

To begin simply, psychosis is not synonymous with psychopathy nor does it mean the person is inherently a good or bad person. Movies, literature, and even some games have been detrimental to the public’s understanding of this illness. Such films like silence of the lambs or Me, myself and Irene have been detrimental to the public view of such an illness. Psychosis is a mental disorder which is used to describe a loss of contact with reality. This comes in the forms of visual and auditory hallucinations.

Whilst enduring psychosis, a person’s thoughts and perceptions are disturbed and the individual may have difficulty understanding reality, or what is not real. Other symptoms can include an unusual speech pattern or nonsensical speech and appropriate behavior for certain situations. Those suffering through a psychotic episode may in addition experience depression, anxiety, difficulty sleeping, social withdrawal, a lack of motivation, and generally a difficulty in functioning as they normally would.

It is important to understand that psychosis is a symptom, not an illness, and it is more common than you may think. In the U.S., approximately 100,000 young people experience psychosis each year. As many as three in 100 people will have an episode at some point in their lives.

Early, or first-episode, psychosis refers to when a person first shows signs of beginning to lose contact with reality. It is important to act quickly to connect a person with the right treatment during early psychosis given that it can be life-changing and has the potential to alter that person’s future.

A biological explanation for psychosis has not yet been provided given the complexities of the brain but ideas have been hypothesized the current popular idea being that it is the effect of multiple chemicals that are involved, dopamine being a widely suspected chemical in this process, and that these synthesized together create the experience of psychosis. Though this is the popular idea of the physical explanation behind such experiences there is still more to be known about psychosis.

It is understood that there are several suspected factors as to which are likely involved in its development. The age of the patient primarily due to hormonal changes putting patients at an increased risk.

These several factors include:

Genetics. There are many genes which can contribute to psychosis but just because the gene is present doesn’t necessarily mean that they will experience psychosis.

Trauma. A traumatic event such as a death, war or sexual assault can trigger a psychotic episode. With this it is important to take into account the person’s age and the type of trauma as it does affect whether such events will result in psychosis.

Substance use. The use of marijuana, LSD, amphetamines and other substances can increase the risk of experiencing psychosis primarily in those who are already prone to experiencing such symptoms.

Physical illness or injury. Traumatic brain injuries, brain tumors, strokes, HIV and some brain diseases such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and dementia can possibly cause psychosis.

Mental health conditions.  Psychosis can be a symptom of a condition such as schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, bipolar disorder or depression

There is treatment for those experiencing psychosis and it is important to begin treatment early. Treatment can be found in the form of Coordinated Specialty Care in which the patient will receive family support and education, psychotherapy, medication management to help alleviate symptoms, and peer support. This may vary on a case by case basis but for the most  part has been effective.

For those who are suffering from psychosis, or know someone who is please treat this as you would any form of illness. Urge the person to seek medical treatment so that they can be helped in facing such experiences. There has been a standing stigma behind seeking out treatment for mental health, but in the same way that we work on ensuring that we have stable blood pressure for example,  we must also make sure to evaluate and seek treatment for our mental health so that we may be entirely healthy individuals.

We do have resources on campus for students who would like to speak with trained professionals concerning mental health problems, and should they not be able to help you they can refer you to someone who can. To each of the students here at CSUMB, your health and happiness is greatly valued, should you feel that you need someone to speak to or wish to seek active therapy please call our on campus number for the Personal Growth and Counseling center at (831) 582-3969. These remarkable individuals will do all they can to help you through difficult times.

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