Sometimes people will flippantly call someone who is acting mean or bizarre a “psycho”. However, have you ever wondered what being psychotic or having a psychotic disorders actually means? Or if you work in the mental health field, have you ever struggled to explain these things to clients and their families? If so, here are some helpful tidbits for you:
Psychosis or Psychotic – This refers to a person who is not fully in touch with reality. They may be seeing people or things others do not see or hear voices (distinct from their own thoughts) that others do not hear. These are referred to as hallucinations. They may have very bizarre thoughts or beliefs ranging from suspecting others are plotting against them to thinking they are God. These are referred to as delusions. They may or may not be able to tell you basic things such as their name, today’s date, where they are at, and why they are where they are. If they do not know these things they are said to be disoriented or oriented X # of these things they know.
Schizophrenia- This is a disorder in which psychotic symptoms are present. Hallucinations and/or delusions that the person has are referred to as positive symptoms because the person has or is “positive” for these symptoms that should not be present. Schizophrenia also consists of negative symptoms which refers to a lack of something the person should have. For example, many people with this disorder have a lack of visible emotional expression which professionals refer to as flat affect.
*Note: It is not the same as or related to Disociative Identity Disorder (which use to be known as Multiple Personality Disorder). In schizophrenia, the hallucinations feel separate from the person, where as in DID (or MPD), the person truly feels like they take on multiple distinct personalities and each personality may or may not know about the others.*
Schizoaffective Disorder – Although it is difficult to distinguish this disorder from other related disorders, this disorder consists of both the psychotic symptoms of schizophrenia and mood symptoms such as those you may see in Major Depression or Bipolar Disorder.
Bipolar Disorder- Although this disorder is viewed as a mood disorder consisting of periods of very low mood (depressive episodes) and periods of very high or agitated mood (manic episodes), it can also involve experiencing some psychotic symptoms as well. Sometimes, it is difficult to tell the difference between this and Schizophrenia. As a result, it is not uncommon for someone to report they have been diagnosed with both.
Major Depressive Disorder- This is a mood disorder characterized by symptoms such as lack of pleasure, very low or apathetic mood, changes in appetite and sleep. Although not classified as a psychotic disorder, some people with a severe form of this disorder may experience some psychotic symptoms as well.
It is important to know, there is help for these disorders.There are multiple medications available to help treat these disorders and their symptoms. I have personally met people who, when on the right meds and compliant with these meds, were able to function fairly well and the average person would not even be able to tell the person was struggling with a severe mental illness. The challenge to recovery/remission for many of these people is that medication compliance is often an issue due to the nature of their disorders. However, if this obstacle can be overcome, many of these people can have a decent quality of life!
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