Psychosis is a word used to describe a variety of symptoms which have one thing in common: they involve a detachment from reality. One example of a psychotic symptom is a hallucination, where an individual has a sensory experience, such as seeing something, hearing something or smelling something, which occurs without anything stimulating those senses; there is nothing to see, hear or smell. Another example is a delusion, where an individual firmly believes something that is not true, but cannot be talked out of this belief, which is out of keeping with prevailing social or cultural norms.
Psychotic symptoms as a whole are common; nearly 1 in 6 people in the population experience them. In a few cases, certain types of psychotic symptoms can be normal; for example, people commonly hear things which aren't there when they are going to sleep or waking up.
Some psychotic symptoms can also be caused by physical illnesses, for example, types of eye disease or epilepsy. However, psychosis is usually a symptom of a serious mental illness and should be assessed by a medical professional as soon as possible.
Psychotic symptoms occur in a variety of illnesses. The most common of these illnesses is schizophrenia, where an individual experiences these sorts of symptoms for at least one month. However, these symptoms also occur in extreme episodes of bipolar disorder, when someone is severely depressed or extremely manic, and can occur in a transient manner in others, such as those with personalities prone to rapid change at times of stress. Using alcohol or drugs can also result in a person experiencing psychotic symptoms.
Treatment will depend on the underlying diagnosis, but will involve medication called antipsychotics to treat the symptoms. If someone experience a psychotic episode for the first time, antipsychotic medication should continue for a year after the person has recovered to prevent the symptoms coming back; they will need to be reviewed regularly during this time. If someone is experiencing a recurrence of psychotic symptoms, treatment may need to continue for a longer period, although this can be reviewed regularly. It is also important to minimise any risk factors which may perpetuate the psychotic symptoms, such as drug and alcohol use or stress. Psychological treatment can also be used to help a person develop skills to cope with ongoing psychotic symptoms.
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