What is Psychosis

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Psychosis is a condition that affects the mind in several ways and affects how a person thinks, perceives the world, displays emotions, problem solves, and communicates. Severe psychosis can prevent a person from being able to function independently and may lead to hospitalization. The symptoms of psychosis include hallucinations, delusions, disorganized speech and disorganized behavior.

Psychosis itself is a symptom of several mental illnesses and personality disorders. Mental illnesses and personality disorders which can include psychosis as a symptom include; schizophrenia, schizophreniform disorder, schizoaffective disorder, depression, bipolar disorder, delusional disorder, and anxiety, as well as borderline, schizotypal, schizoid and paranoid personality disorders. Medical conditions which may include psychosis as a symptom include; delirium, dementia, Parkinson’s Disease, Huntington’s Disease, chromosomal disorders, stroke, brain tumors or cysts, HIV, syphilis, thyroid conditions and epilepsy to name a few. Psychosis can also be triggered through substance use or substance withdrawal. Furthermore, a brief episode of psychosis can occur as a response to a stressor such as the death of a family member. Finally, psychosis can be caused as a reaction to a prescription medication.

Symptoms of Psychosis: Hallucinations

When someone is psychotic they often experience hallucinations. Hallucinations can affect any of the five senses. Auditory hallucinations such as hearing voices that don’t exist and visual hallucinations such as seeing things that are not really there are very common. However, hallucinations can also include sensations that are not real such as the sensation of being shocked or smelling something rotting as well as tasting blood.

Often the voices a psychotic person hears are persecutory in nature and may tell him/her to do things such as to kill themselves, or to eat dog food, and may make grossly insulting comments about the person who is hallucinating. These voices may also talk about people around the psychotic person. However, these voices can be pleasant and say nice things as well. Imagine walking around with headphones on while attempting to communicate with others without turning off the sound and imagine your headphones are making these types of comments. You may find yourself laughing out loud at something the “voice” said about the person to whom you are talking for example and find it difficult to focus on that person.


Symptoms of Psychosis: Delusions

Delusions are false beliefs that exist in spite of strong evidence to the contrary. These delusions are often persecutory or paranoid in nature but also can be grandiose, erotic, somatic or jealous in nature. Persecutory delusions involve feeling as if they are in danger or someone or something is out to get them. Examples of persecutory delusions include beliefs that aliens are coming to get them, that they are evil, and that the neighbour is really CIA and is bugging their house. They may even express delusional thoughts that are so disorganized that it is really hard to follow or understand what they are saying or thinking such as the color green is somehow related to someone trying to poison them.

Grandiose delusions include beliefs that they are omnipotent, supernatural, and powerful or connected to a powerful individual.

Erotic delusions are beliefs that a special loving relationship exists between them and someone else that is not in fact true. These beliefs can lead to stalking behaviors or violent acts may occur if this love interest is seen engaging in loving interactions with someone else.

Somatic delusions involve fears around ones heath or bodily functions. They may believe they are rotting from the inside out and may consequently smell rotting flesh. They may believe that their body is being infested with insects or cancer and that they are dying in spite of evidence to the contrary.

Finally, jealousy delusions often result in violence in intimate relationships. The delusional person is convinced that his or her significant other is being unfaithful based on trivial behavior or evidence. For example, the evidence that they are being cheated on may be something as simple as a change in perfume, coming home 15 minutes late, or an unmade bed.


Psychosis is a symptom of several different mental illnesses and medical conditions. The primary symptoms of psychosis are hallucinations and delusions. However, psychotic individuals often suffer from disorganized thoughts or behaviors as well. They may become so disorganized in their thoughts that their speech is not understandable and they jump from subject to subject without any connection. They may even make up words. Their behaviors can also become erratic and almost manic seeming. They may become disorganized to the point that they can no longer adequately complete everyday tasks such as bathing or preparing food. For example, they may wear layers upon layers of clothing on a hot day, become poorly groomed, and engage in sexual activities in public.


Deborah Rosch Eifert, Ph.D. Delusional Disorder, Encyclopedia of Mental disorders; www.minddisorders.com.

Mayo Clinic Staff. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, December 10, 2010, Disorganized Schizophrenia; www.mayoclinic.com

Mohammed A Memon, MD and Michael Larson, DO, Brief Psychotic Disorder, May 15, 2009, www.emedicine.medscape.com

Psychotic Disorders, www.medicinenet.com/psychotic_disorders/article.htm

The free Dictionary by Farlex, Psychosis, www.medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com

The AGS foundation for Health in Aging, Psychosis (Delusions and Hallucinations) https://www.healthinaging.org/agingintheknow

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