Psychosis is an abnormal psychological state involving disruptions in fundamental
aspects of brain functioning such as cognition, perception, processing,
and emotion. Historically, psychosis was used to refer to any mental
health condition that interfered with normal functioning. In
contemporary psychology, it is most commonly used to describe an episode
that causes someone to disconnect in some way from reality.
Symptoms of Psychosis The symptoms of psychosis must include some departure from reality.
Someone who is deliberately acting abnormally is not having a psychotic
episode. Symptoms can include:
Extreme emotions, particularly aggression and sadness
Disorganized or incoherent speech
Attempts to harm oneself or others
What Causes Psychosis?
Psychosis is most commonly associated with schizophrenia,
a severe mental illness that may cause an ongoing loss of contact with
reality. Other psychiatric conditions that may sometimes cause psychosis
include major depression and bipolar.
Substance abuse and chemical withdrawal may also cause psychosis. Some
medical conditions such as Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s may cause
psychotic episodes. Severe infection that has spread to the brain, the
late stages of AIDS, and stroke and epilepsy may also cause psychotic
episodes, though psychosis is not characteristic of these illnesses.
Treatment for Psychosis Treatment for psychosis depends upon its cause. When there is an
underlying medical cause, treatment may focus on that illness instead.
Infection-related psychosis requires broad-spectrum antibiotic
treatment, usually through an IV. Psychiatric drugs such as
antidepressants and antianxiety medications may be used to treat
conditions that sometimes lead to psychosis. Antipsychotic medications,
electroconvulsive therapy, and anti-seizure medication may also
effectively treat psychosis. Recent research indicates that early
medical intervention can effectively prevent severe psychosis and
ongoing episodes of psychosis.
The false beliefs of people
experiencing psychotic episodes are frequently barriers to treatment.
People with psychosis may refuse medication or stop taking their
medication, and are often hospitalized against their will.
Burns, T. (2010). Early intervention in psychosis. The British Journal of Psychiatry, 197(5), 415-415. doi: 10.1192/bjp.197.5.415
(n.d.). The New York Times Health Guide. Retrieved from