In Syndromes & Disorders, Wellbeing

Psychosis: What You Need To Know


There are many mental health terms being used today and sometimes it can be quite confusing and daunting sifting through the definition of the medical terms. We are focusing on the word PSYCHOSIS, what it means, what it does, and how it could affect a family.

What Is Psychosis?

Looked upon as a very severe mental illness, psychosis affects the way a person acts, thinks, and functions. That is the very general way to define psychosis. To be more precise, a person may be displaying any number of psychosis symptoms. The symptoms may include:

• Unable to establish what is real in the world and what is not.

• Struggling to find any incentive from their environment or surroundings around them.

• Hearing, seeing, tasting or feeling things no one else can (commonly referred to as hallucinations).

• Disoriented thinking and/or speaking.

• Adversity in daily living tasks (for example, not being able to hold their attention, having unclear thoughts, or difficulty with their memory).

What Is Postpartum Psychosis?

Postpartum psychosis can occur after a woman gives birth to her baby. Although this type of psychosis is very rare, occurring in an estimated one to two births out of every thousand (about .1%), the onset of this type of psychosis can happen unexpectedly and swiftly. Generally the onset occurs within the window of two weeks after birth.

According to the women’s help site, of women experiencing postpartum psychosis, five percent of this group commits suicide or infanticide.


Doctors have theorized that some women, after going through the physical trauma of giving birth, develop postpartum psychosis, causing her to break away from her true reality and enter a state where what she is feeling in the way of beliefs and thoughts make perfect sense. This condition needs immediate medical attention since the woman is very vulnerable to trust in her psychotic thoughts and may end up harming herself or her newborn.

Not all postpartum women who experienced psychosis afterward had thoughts of harm or violence. Delusions – strongly held false beliefs that are null and void – are able to take many forms; not all of them are dangerously bad. However, since the onset is so sudden, women who develop postpartum psychosis must be monitored closely by medical personnel.

The good news about postpartum psychosis is that this condition is only temporary and it can be treated with the help of professionals.

What Causes Psychosis?

Psychosis is actually caused by having another specific mental health problem that ‘triggers’ the psychosis. In other words, a person cannot have the diagnosis of psychosis without suffering from a separate mental health condition. Common diagnoses that may trigger psychosis are: schizophrenia, severe depression or bipolar mood disorder.

However, studies have found that psychosis can be triggered by things other than mental illness.

According to the Foundation for Excellence in Mental Healthcare’s website ‘Early Assessment in Support Alliance,’ physicians believe that stress, extreme trauma and physical conditions, like a brain tumor, can prompt psychosis in a person as well.

Also, substance abuse (drugs and alcohol) puts you at a higher risk for psychosis.

Who Is At The Most Risk For Getting Psychosis?

Actually, everyone could acquire an illness that could trigger psychosis, but, just like other illnesses and diseases, some people are just more prone than others.

Researchers and doctors have found that it is more likely than not if a person has psychosis, the initial episode probably happened between the ages of 15 and 30 years old.

Psychosis affects both males and females equally, but it seems men have their first psychotic encounter in their teenage years or early twenties.

Women tend to experience psychosis more so in their early twenties, according to

How Do You Doctors Know If You Have Psychosis?

Diagnosing psychosis by referring to a list of possible medical symptoms is a very difficult thing to accomplish. Why? Because psychosis affects people differently so there cannot be set criteria that everyone must meet.

Fortunately, the medical profession has set up an assessment in hopes to clarify if a person has psychosis, and then treat them in the most beneficial way.

How Does This Assessment Work?

Although the assessment process will vary a bit from doctor to doctor, generally speaking, the patient who needs to be diagnosed firstly fills out an eight page questionnaire, and then will see and get evaluated by a number of health care professionals, including their primary care doctor, a psychiatric doctor or nurse practitioner, a mental health professional, and sometimes other specialists like neurologists to assist in making a thorough and correct diagnosis.

It has been found that including family and friends that are close to the patient to be involved and address and changes they have noticed in the patient.

And if a patient is indeed suffering from psychosis, it is best to have people who know the patient there to share with the physicians more about the patient’s personality and abilities. It also a great help to the patient, because their memory may not be able to retain everything and the ability to process information or instructions could be limited as well.

The assessment in order to diagnosis psychosis properly is usually not an easy and quick thing to do. Typically, a preparatory evaluation is initially made on the first interview that will be kept about 30 days. Afterward, the doctor will continually review this diagnosis throughout treatment. Medical professionals tend to keep the diagnosis process and evaluation ongoing, usually around six months.

Within this time, a physician may give you what is called a “rule out” diagnosis. This diagnosis only means that medical professionals are lacking enough credible means of diagnosing a person as psychotic. Therefore, it should be expected that the patient will have to endure additional testing and/or observation to give the physicians the confidence they need to diagnosis a patient as psychotic and not make a mistake.

For a sample of the eight page medical questionnaire a patient may be given when getting assessed can be found through the EASA Community website in PDF form:

As a rule of thumb, the following topics will be addressed in any psychosis assessment:

• Current Situation: What kind of changes or differences have you noticed? What is your perception on what is going on in your life. What is it you see? What possible “symptoms” do you think you might have?

• History: Make sure to inform your physicians of illnesses you or your family had. Inform about all injuries, allergies and drug use. Advise the doctor if you have learning disabilities in the past or now.

• Current Psychosocial Situation: Is it difficult to focus on work or school? How do you think your relationships are going? Do you feel you are achieving or coming closer to your goals? Do you feel your family and friends are a stable support network for her?

• Medical Tests: (Please note not all of them may be ordered)

Blood draws consisting of:

CBC with differential, chemistry panel with specific tests on (electrolytes, BUN, liver enzymes, calcium and Cr), B-12, thyroid screen (TSH & T4) and folate.

Urinalysis consisting of: Urine drug screen, microscopic urinalysis

Imaging consisting of: CT scans and/or MRI scans

And After This Long Process, Then What Happens?

In a perfect world where everything goes smoothly, the end result of all the work you and all those involved the result of the assessment will conclude with:

• A clarification of diagnosis, but remember, as stated before, that can be months in the making.

• A treatment plan prepared specifically for you with the skills and medications that most likely will be helpful and beneficial to your situation.

• Your initial goals for treatment, prepared all around all the professionals learned through the testing and assessments. Now will be the time you will be able to focus on your needs and priorities.

What Are The Common Treatments For Psychosis?

The cornerstone in the management of psychosis has been antipsychotic medications that have been available since the mid-1950s.

These antipsychotic drugs do not ‘cure’ psychosis; however, the symptoms are significantly reduced, which allows the person suffering from psychosis to feel better, function better, enjoy a more enriched quality of life, and a fresher outlook.

Some examples of the anti-psychosis medication on the market today are: Clozaril, Mellarill Haldol and Thorazine. In addition to medication, it is strongly recommended the patient keep follow-up appointments and stay in programs mental health professionals may have suggested to you that were thought to be beneficial in your recovery.

Myths Versus Facts: Do You Know Your Stuff? has created a list of myths and facts when it comes to psychosis. This is a bit of a fun to see just how much you really know about this mental illness.

Myth or Fact:

1. The current statistic of psychosis is 3 people in every 100.


Myth or Fact:

2. Using drugs doesn’t really impact negatively on people with psychosis.


Myth or Fact:

3. Psychosis is like standing on the edge of a cliff. If you slip and fall, there is no way for you to ever make it back up again.


Myth or Fact:

4. Psychosis doesn’t discriminate. It can affect any race, religion, sex or culture.


Myth or Fact:

5. Mental illness is not the same as other illnesses, like a heart attack or a broken leg. If you have a problem in your head, you are crazy, not unhealthy.


Myth or Fact:

6. The average age for women to experience their first episode of psychosis is in their 20’s.


In Closing

Mental illness is still waging a battle against the unfair stigma that a person is ‘weak’ or ‘crazy’ if they are diagnosed with any type of mental health problem. Too many people today refuse to get help out of fear their family, friends and co-workers may get word they are receiving help for a mental health problem, and incorrectly assume that they are not able to function normally or can no longer be trusted with important decisions if their needing treatment for a mental problem.

Everybody goes through times when it is warranted for them to get their mental health assessed. So many things stem from something in our heads. It could be insomnia, it could be depression, and as you have read here, it can be psychosis.

Just remember: Psychosis (and a lot of other diagnoses) can strike anyone at any time. This is not a mental illness that only affects weak people, or just women or only men. Mental illness and recovery works best when you are not afraid to admit that you are working out a problem in order to feel well again.

If you broke your leg, would you be stubborn and not go to the doctors? Can you see yourself explaining to everyone that “Naw, I don’t need to get my leg checked out; a few days walking on it and I’ll get used to it and that will be that.” And all the while your leg is in agony, but you fear to tell anyone or seek help for it because someone may think you don’t know how to walk right and you fell on your own leg because of it. Or maybe people with think you caught your leg in an elevator and that’s how the break occurred, so no need to discuss it: You don’t know how to use office and business equipment without breaking something. You certainly cannot hold down a job if this is how you act!

Ridiculous sounding, isn’t it? It’s funny because those excuses have been used by people with mental health issues (“I’m going to get fired if they knew I suffered from psychosis.”) Meanwhile, people think mental health should not be included in the rest of our health and well-being. Your head and mind are connected with your body… they all deserve the same respect, treatment and taking care of.

Admittedly, being told by a doctor that you may have a mental health illness can take you aback. But fortunately we have a wonderful health system that is promoting mental health and fighting against the stigma, too.

You can get better. You can feel better. And you don’t have to single yourself out as someone with a horrible disease. Remember this statistic: One in five Americans suffers from one form of mental illness or another.

You are not alone. So be not ashamed.

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