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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
  • False beliefs
  • Hallucinations
  • Strange affect

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 anti-anxiety 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.



  1. Burns, T. (2010). Early intervention in psychosis. The British Journal of Psychiatry, 197(5), 415-415. doi: 10.1192/bjp.197.5.415
  2. Psychosis. (n.d.). The New York Times Health Guide. Retrieved from http://health.nytimes.com/health/guides/disease/psychosis/overview.html


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Last updated: 06-30-2014


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