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What Does A Psychotic Episode Look Like And Common Misconceptions

Navigating the complex world of mental health can be daunting, especially when trying to understand conditions like psychotic disorders. There’s a widely held myth that psychosis means a total disconnect from reality causing violent behaviour, but this is not accurate.

This blog post will help demystify what a psychotic episode looks like and debunk common misconceptions associated with it. Stay tuned as we delve deep into understanding this intricate topic in an easy-to-grasp manner.

psychotic episode

How do psychotic episodes appear?

A psychotic episode is a period during which a person experiences significant disturbances in their thoughts, emotions, perceptions, and behaviours. It is often associated with severe mental health conditions such as schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, bipolar disorder with psychotic features, or severe forms of depression. The specific symptoms and their intensity can vary from person to person, but here are some common features of a psychotic episode:

  1. Delusions: The person may hold false beliefs that are not based in reality. These beliefs can be paranoia (feeling persecuted or spied on), grandiose (believing they have special powers or are extremely important), or bizarre (holding beliefs that are clearly implausible).
  2. Hallucinations: They might experience sensory perceptions without any external stimuli. Auditory hallucinations, hearing voices that others cannot hear, are the most common, but visual, tactile, olfactory, or gustatory hallucinations can also occur.
  3. Disorganised thinking: Their thoughts may become fragmented and incoherent. They might have difficulty concentrating, following a conversation, or maintaining a logical flow of ideas.
  4. Disorganised or abnormal motor behaviour: This can manifest as unpredictable or repetitive movements, inappropriate or bizarre gestures, or catatonia (a state of unresponsiveness to the environment).
  5. Emotional disturbances: The person may display intense emotions that are incongruent with the situation or seem inappropriate. They might show little emotional expression or have a flat affect.
  6. Social withdrawal: They may isolate themselves from others due to fear, mistrust, or difficulty in relating to people.
  7. Impairment in daily functioning: The person’s ability to carry out their usual activities, such as work, study, self-care, or relationships, may be significantly disrupted.
  8. Increased sensitivity to stimuli: Minor sensory stimuli, like lights, sounds, or touch, can feel overwhelming or frightening.

It is essential to note that a single episode does not necessarily mean the person has a chronic psychotic disorder. Some people experience transient psychotic episodes triggered by stress, substance use, or other factors. However, if someone exhibits the symptoms mentioned above or if you suspect that someone is going through a psychotic episode, it is crucial to seek professional help immediately. Early intervention and appropriate treatment can significantly improve outcomes and quality of life for people experiencing psychotic episodes.

psychotic symptoms

Common Misconceptions about Psychotic Disorders

People affected by psychosis are seen as “crazy” in society, but this is a harmful and stigmatising misconception.

People Affected By Psychosis Are “Crazy”

It’s a widespread mistake to label people experiencing psychosis as “crazy”. This term can be hurtful and propagates negative stereotypes that are far from reality. Psychosis is a health condition, much like diabetes or heart disease.

It refers to a state where a person struggles with differentiating the real world from their thoughts and imaginations. Those afflicted might hear, see, or believe things that aren’t verified by others – these symptoms do not make them irrational or insane but signal they need appropriate medical attention and care.

Psychosis Makes People Violent or Dangerous

It’s a common misconception that psychosis makes people violent or dangerous. This stereotype largely stems from sensationalised portrayals of mental illness in the media, rather than actual fact.

The reality is, persons suffering from psychotic disorders are often more vulnerable and at risk to themselves, rather than posing a threat to others.

Statistically speaking, the majority of crimes are committed by people without any form of psychosis. A small fraction could indeed become aggressive during an episode if they feel threatened due to their distorted perception of reality; however this isn’t the norm.

In truth, those going through a psychotic episode desperately need understanding, patience, and appropriate medical intervention – not to be feared or shunned based on misguided beliefs.

Psychotic Disorders Appear Out Of The Blue

Contrary to public belief, psychotic disorders don’t just materialise out of nowhere. It’s a common misconception that one can wake up one day suddenly experiencing a full-blown psychotic episode.

The truth is, these episodes are typically proceeded by what psychiatrists call ‘prodromal’ symptoms – subtle early warning signs like changes in thought processes or feelings that often go unnoticed.

These could include feeling suspicious, perceiving things differently than others, or withdrawing from social interaction. Understanding this might help dispel the myth and emphasise the importance of early detection and intervention for those at risk of developing such conditions.

Psychosis Means Having Multiple Personalities

One common misconception about psychosis is that it means having multiple personalities. However, this is not true. A loss of awareness of reality is a defining feature of the mental illness known as psychosis.

It can cause symptoms such as disorganised thinking, hallucinations, and delusions. While some people with psychotic disorders may experience changes in their behaviour or perception of self, they do not have multiple distinct personalities like those seen in dissociative identity disorder.

It’s important to understand the distinctions between different mental health conditions to avoid misunderstandings and stigmatisation.

Psychotic Disorders Prevent Normal, Fulfilling Lives

Living with a psychotic disorder does not mean that one’s life cannot be normal and fulfilling. While it is true that people affected by psychosis may experience challenges, it is important to remember that with proper treatment and support, people can lead meaningful lives.

Psychotic disorders are mental health conditions that can cause disturbances in thinking, perception, emotions, and behaviour. However, through medication management, therapy, and lifestyle adjustments, many people with psychotic disorders can manage their symptoms effectively and maintain a good quality of life.

It is crucial to challenge the stigma associated with psychosis and recognise that persons living with these disorders have the potential to thrive in various aspects of their lives including relationships, work, or education pursuits – just like anyone else.

symptoms of psychosis

What is a Psychotic Episode?

– During a psychotic episode, a person may experience symptoms such as confused thinking, delusions, hallucinations, changed behaviour, and altered feelings.

Symptoms of Psychosis

Psychosis is a mental health condition that can cause a range of symptoms. Some common symptoms of psychosis include confused thinking, delusions, hallucinations, changed behaviour and changed feelings.

Confused thinking may cause difficulty concentrating or following a conversation. Delusions are false beliefs that are not based in reality, such as believing someone is out to get you or that you have special powers.

Hallucinations involve seeing or hearing things that are not there. Changed behaviour can manifest as sudden mood swings, becoming withdrawn or agitated, or engaging in unusual actions.

Changed feelings may include feeling extremely paranoid or fearful for no apparent reason.

Confused Thinking and Psychosis

During a psychotic episode, one common symptom is confused thinking. This means that the person may have difficulty processing information and making sense of their thoughts. They may have trouble focusing, staying on topic, or connecting ideas logically.

Their speech may be disorganised and hard to follow. For example, they might jump from one unrelated topic to another or speak incoherently. Confused thinking can also lead to difficulties with decision-making and problem-solving.

It’s important to remember that this confusion is a result of the underlying psychosis and not a reflection of the person’s intelligence or character.

Delusions and Psychosis

Delusions are a common symptom of psychosis, where a person holds strong beliefs that do not align with reality. These delusions can take various forms, such as believing that someone is out to harm them or that they possess special powers or abilities.

It’s important to understand that these beliefs are deeply held and real to the person experiencing them, even if they seem irrational to others. Delusions can greatly impact a person’s thoughts and behaviour, leading to difficulties in social interactions and functioning in everyday life.

Seeking treatment from professionals who specialise in psychotic disorders is crucial for managing these symptoms effectively.

Hallucinations and Psychosis

Hallucinations are one of the key symptoms of psychosis. During a psychotic episode, you may experience hallucinations, which are perceptions that aren’t based in reality. These can involve seeing or hearing things that aren’t there, or even feeling physical sensations that have no basis in reality.

For example, you might hear voices speaking to you when there’s nobody around or see objects or people that others can’t detect.

These hallucinations can be incredibly vivid and intense, making it difficult to distinguish them from actual sensory experiences. They can be distressing and scary for the person experiencing them, and they often contribute to confusion and disorientation during a psychotic episode.

psychotic disorder

Changed Behaviour and Psychosis

During a psychotic episode, persons may experience significant changes in their behaviour. They might exhibit unusual or erratic actions that seem out of character for them. For example, they may become more irritable or aggressive without any apparent reason.

On the other hand, some people may become withdrawn and isolated from others, preferring to spend time alone rather than engaging in social activities. Others might display increased hyperactivity or restlessness, constantly moving around or talking rapidly.

These changes in behaviour can be distressing both for the person experiencing them and for their loved ones who may not understand what is happening. It’s important to remember that these altered behaviours are symptoms of psychosis and should be addressed with understanding and support rather than judgment or fear.

Changed Feelings and Psychosis

During a psychotic episode, people may experience significant changes in their emotions and feelings. They might feel intense fear or paranoia as if someone is constantly watching or plotting against them.

These feelings can be overwhelming and cause great distress. Additionally, they may also have inappropriate emotional responses to certain situations – for example, laughing at something sad or crying for no apparent reason.

It’s important to remember that these changed feelings are not within the person’s control and are a result of the underlying psychosis.

Types of Psychotic Illness

  • Schizophrenia: a chronic mental disorder characterised by hallucinations, delusions, disorganised thinking and speech, and social withdrawal.
  • Bipolar disorder with psychotic features: a mood disorder that includes manic or hypomanic episodes along with periods of depression. Psychotic features can occur during manic or depressive episodes.
  • Major depressive disorder with psychotic features: a mood disorder characterised by persistent feelings of sadness and loss of interest, accompanied by psychotic symptoms such as hallucinations or delusions.
  • Delusional disorder: a rare condition where a person holds fixed, false beliefs that are not based in reality. These delusions can be non-bizarre (believing someone is spying on them) or bizarre (believing they have superpowers).
  • Substance-induced psychosis: the use of drugs such as marijuana, amphetamines, hallucinogens, or cocaine can induce psychotic symptoms such as hallucinations and delusions.
  • Brief psychotic disorder: a temporary condition where a person experiences a sudden onset of psychotic symptoms lasting anywhere from one day to one month. This is often triggered by an extremely stressful event.

That’s it for the types of psychotic illness. Remember to seek professional help if you or someone you know is experiencing any symptoms associated with psychosis.

Causes of Psychosis

Psychosis can be caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. In terms of genetics, certain genes have been identified that are associated with an increased risk of developing psychosis.

However, having these genes does not guarantee that a person will develop the disorder. Environmental factors, such as exposure to trauma or stress, can also play a role in triggering psychotic symptoms.

Drug use is another potential cause of psychosis. Certain substances, such as marijuana and hallucinogens, have been known to induce psychotic episodes in some people. It’s important to note that not everyone who uses drugs will experience psychosis, but it can increase the risk for those who are already susceptible.

Additionally, certain medical conditions or illnesses can contribute to the development of psychosis. These include conditions like Parkinson’s disease or brain tumors. Infections and autoimmune disorders can also affect the brain and lead to psychotic symptoms.

It’s important to remember that while these factors may contribute to the development of psychosis, each person’s experience is unique and complex. It is always best to seek professional help if you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of psychosis so that appropriate treatment options can be explored.

mental health conditions

Diagnosing Psychotic Episodes

  • A mental health professional will conduct a comprehensive assessment, which may include interviews with the person and their loved ones, as well as observations of their behaviour.
  • The DSM – 5, a widely used diagnostic manual, provides criteria for diagnosing psychotic disorders based on specific symptoms and their duration.
  • The professional will look for the presence of delusions or hallucinations, as well as other symptoms such as disorganised thinking or speech, lack of motivation, or social withdrawal.
  • Medical tests may be conducted to rule out any underlying medical conditions that could be causing the symptoms.
  • It is important for the professional to gather information about the person’s medical history and any potential stressors or traumatic events that may have triggered the psychotic episode.
  • Other mental health conditions, such as mood disorders or substance abuse, must also be considered and evaluated.

Treatment for Psychosis

Treating psychosis typically involves a combination of medication, therapy, and support from healthcare professionals. Medication is often the first line of treatment, as it can help manage the symptoms of psychosis.

Antipsychotic medications are commonly prescribed to reduce hallucinations, delusions, and other psychotic symptoms. It’s important to take these medications exactly as prescribed and communicate any side effects or concerns with your doctor.

In addition to medication, therapy can play a crucial role in treating psychosis. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is often used to help people better understand their thoughts and behaviours related to their psychotic symptoms.

CBT can also teach coping strategies for managing stress and reducing symptom severity.

Support from healthcare professionals is vital throughout the treatment process. Regular check-ins with a psychiatrist or therapist can ensure that the chosen treatment plan is effective and adjust if necessary.

Support groups may also be beneficial for people living with psychosis, providing a space where they can connect with others who have similar experiences.

It’s worth noting that recovery from psychosis varies for each person – some people may experience full remission of symptoms while others may need ongoing support to manage their condition effectively.

The goal of treatment is generally focused on reducing symptom severity and improving overall quality of life.

If you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of psychosis, it’s essential to reach out for professional help as soon as possible. Early intervention maximizes the chances of successful treatment outcomes and long-term recovery.

treating psychosis

Common Myths about Psychosis

  • Psychosis is the same as being “crazy” or insane
  • People with psychosis are dangerous or violent
  • Psychotic disorders come out of nowhere and without warning
  • Having psychosis means having multiple personalities
  • Psychotic disorders prevent people from living normal, fulfilling lives.


In conclusion, understanding what a psychotic episode looks like is crucial in breaking down the common misconceptions that surround it. By debunking these myths, we can promote empathy and support for persons experiencing psychosis, helping them lead fulfilling lives and access appropriate treatment.

Key Takeaways

  • Psychotic episodes are not a total disconnect from reality causing violent behaviour. They involve symptoms such as confused thinking, delusions, hallucinations, changed behaviour, and altered feelings.
  • Common misconceptions about psychosis include labelling people affected by it as “crazy” or dangerous. In reality, those experiencing psychotic disorders are often more vulnerable themselves rather than posing a threat to others.
  • Psychosis is not the same as having multiple personalities. It is a mental health condition characterised by a loss of touch with reality and can cause symptoms like disorganised thinking, hallucinations, and delusions.
  • Living with a psychotic disorder does not mean that one’s life cannot be normal and fulfilling. With proper treatment and support, persons can lead meaningful lives despite the challenges posed by psychosis.

2 Responses

  1. Having loved ones with psychotic episodes makes being aware of the signs imperative. I am so glad you are educating people. Being schizophrenic does NOT mean they are or will become violent.

    1. Yes I’m hoping to remove the stigma around schizophrenia. I do think people’s perceptions of it can be misaligned with the illness. Thank you for taking the time to comment.

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