What is Psychosis?

Psychosis describes the experience of some loss of contact with reality.  While perspectives on what reality is can vary between individuals, people experiencing psychosis may encounter sounds or see things that others do not.  Around 3 out of every 100 young people will experience a psychotic episode.  Most make a full recovery from the experience.

Psychotic episodes are periods of time when symptoms of psychosis are strong and interfere with regular life. Psychotic disorders rarely emerge suddenly.  Most often, the symptoms evolve and become gradually worse over a period of weeks, months or even years.

Psychosis can also be substance induced or due to a general medical condition, and can be experienced briefly or on an ongoing basis.  As such, medical conditions like tumors, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, imbalances in blood sugar or electrolytes, and substances like LSD, marijuana, amphetamines, and even some cough suppressants can cause a psychotic episode.

We believe that psychosis is on a continuum of natural human experience.  For example, many people know what it is like to have a song stuck in their heads.  That is an auditory experience that no one else can hear.  While this can be very annoying, many people can ignore or distract themselves from the experience. On the other end of the continuum are fully formed auditory hallucinations which are experienced as real and may be loud and difficult to ignore. Some people report these hallucinations as being positive while others experience this as distressing.

Studies have shown that:
1.    Auditory verbal hallucinations occur in 10% to 15% of the population (Tien (1991) Soc Psychiatr Epidemiology); And,
2.    If you blindfold people for five days, 77% of them will develop visual hallucinations (Merabet (2004) Journal of Neuro-opthalmology).

Early experiences of psychosis may or may not be distressing to an individual and there are many different options to working with these symptoms.  Our services at PREP work with each individual on what is distressing to them.  Episodes of psychosis are treatable, and it is possible to recover.

Early Intervention Matters

Psychosis does not have to be a lifelong diagnosis.  Early intervention is designed to provide treatments as early as possible in the course of psychosis. It has been shown that reducing the individual’s duration of untreated psychosis can reduce the risk of relapse and improve outcomes.