Making sense of psychosis
What is psychosis?
Psychosis is essentially a mental health disorder which is characterised by a set of symptoms. These include: delusions, hallucinations, paranoia and thought disorder. Individuals experiencing psychotic symptoms can feel overwhelmed, confused and disoriented, and often struggle to process internal and external information.
The term psychosis is used interchangeably with schizophrenia which often confuses clients and families. However, both these terms mean the same thing, i.e. the symptoms are the same but schizophrenia is the more medicalised term for the disorder.
Psychologists often use the term psychosis as it suggests a broader meaning, which moves away from a diagnosis and attempts to understand the experience of distress associated with psychotic symptoms. Despite the terminologies, the symptoms remain the same and treatment usually consists of a multi-disciplinary approach involving psychiatry, psychology, nursing, occupational therapy and social work.
Noticing psychotic symptoms in yourself
If you are feeling very anxious and paranoid, this does not necessarily mean that you are psychotic. However, if your paranoia is related to others watching you, following you, communicating with you through the TV... then it is likely that you are experiencing early stages of psychosis.
If your anxiety is so high that you avoid going out, you look out (hyper vigilant) for anyone who might be following you, if you switch off the TV, radio or other electrical equipment in your house to prevent others sending messages to you, then you are experiencing paranoia which has reached a clinical level.
It would be extremely important for you at this stage to seek help. If you are known to mental health services, then you would need to speak with your health care professional. If you are not receiving any support, you would need to see your GP and describe these experiences so you can be referred to either an early intervention service or your local community mental health team.
What help is available for psychosis?
If you or a family member are displaying psychotic symptoms, it is important that treatment is sought at an early stage. Research has shown that the earlier you seek support for psychosis, the more likely you are to recover.
In a community mental health team, you will have access to a range of professionals with different skills. You may see a psychiatrist, a nurse or a occupational therapist who can support you with coping in your day to day life (including cooking, working, shopping). You may see a psychiatrist who may prescribe you with medication to help ease your levels of anxiety and stress. You may see a social worker if there are vulnerable children involved or if you yourself are vulnerable and need additional support.
Finally, every mental health service normally has a clinical or counselling psychologist attached. You may be referred to them for cognitive behavioural therapy or other therapies which involve psychologically working with your symptoms and finding helping coping strategies. A clinical psychologist can also offer family work, so that your family are better able to understand your distress and how to support you.
Psychosis as an extreme form of distress
Psychosis, just like any other mental health issue is a form of emotional distress. However, this mental health disorder can be particularly frightening because the brain can interpret and process information in a fragmented manner. Access to psychological support for this is highly valuable as it allows a real exploration of how symptoms developed and how they can be better managed.
Individuals who lose their sense of reality, who are unable to differentiate between their internal and external world, need a focused therapeutic intervention. This allows individuals to address their underlying distress, reduce levels of anxiety and feel more in control of their own lives.
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