Psychosis is one of the most misunderstood psychological illnesses and is highly stigmatised by the media and entertainment industry as ‘incurable’ and dangerous. This perception is harmful in many ways – it isolates individuals with psychosis, increasing hopelessness and lowering self-esteem which then impact on recovery. Over the course of a few articles, I’ll be dispelling common myths about psychosis and exploring ways families, carers and individuals can cope with and address these symptoms.
Psychosis is a term used to describe a group of psychological symptoms that influence a person’s understanding or perception of reality. Although it has been sensationalised in the media, psychotic symptoms are quite common, affecting 3% of Australians. Symptoms of psychosis usually emerge in adolescence or early adulthood and can look very different from person to person. There are effective pharmacological and psychological treatments available which are beneficial for most people.
Psychotic symptoms can be placed into 5 main categories.
- Hallucinations – seeing, feeling, smelling, hearing or tasting something that is not actually there.
- Delusions – unusual beliefs or ideas about yourself, the world or others. These can sometimes be quite frightening and upsetting, or they can be comforting and exciting.
- Thought disorder – thoughts can seem to become jumbled, speed up or slow down. Sentences can become unclear or hard to understand, and use made up words.
- Emotions – emotions can change without reason such as mood swings between excitement and depression. People with psychosis may express less emotion or feel less emotion. They may also express emotions that seem strange, for example laugh at something that isn’t funny.
- Behaviours – people with psychosis may withdraw and become inactive, or they may become very activity. If the person is experiencing delusions, they can behave as if these beliefs are true. If they are experiencing hallucinations, they may respond to things that others cannot see. They may begin to neglect their own appearance and self-care.
Without treatment, psychosis can have a significant impact on your ability to function and can cause decline in cognitive functioning such as memory, attention and higher order functions (such as problem-solving). However, research has found that early treatment of psychotic symptoms increases the likelihood of a full recovery. If you are concerned that you may be experiencing psychosis, it is recommended that you seek professional help from a General Practitioner, Psychiatrist and Psychologist.
Coming next: What Causes Psychosis?
Sophie Antognelli (M Psych (Clinical), B Psych (Hons – First Class) is passionate about working alongside individuals and families to live more full lives, overcoming difficulties they may face. Sophie’s interests are in child and adolescent mental health are emotion regulation issues and anxiety. Sophie is interested in working with her adult clients to regain quality of life through early psychosis intervention, the management of symptoms of depression and anxiety, as well as the broader clinical issues of perfectionism, adjustment to life stressors and low self-esteem. She developed these interests across her work in both inpatient and outpatient hospital settings. Alongside her clinical work, Sophie is also involved in a number of research projects exploring new approaches to anxiety disorders – with specific interests in investigating potential new avenues for addressing unhelpful thought patterns in health anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder and hoarding disorder.