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What does it mean when someone is "Psychotic"

In mental health, the presence of psychosis usually indicates a severe illness. It is important to understand that psychosis itself does not necessarily indicate what is the specific illness that is afflicting the patient.

Best way for you to understand psychosis is  to think for a moment about something very familiar such as having a fever. We are all familiar with elevated body temperature. Nearly everyone has experienced a fever or witnessed someone having one at some point. You already know  that fever, on its own, is not a diagnosis but rather a symptom. Additionally, fever is a nonspecific symptom. It means that various conditions can cause you to have fever.  Most commonly we develop fewer due to some sort of an infection such as flu or pneumonia, but non-infective conditions, as simple as a "heat stroke" on a hot day or as complex as autoimmune disorders, cancers, or intoxications, may also present with fever.


Psychosis, just like fever in the example above, is a symptom rather than a diagnosis. While fever often occurs due to infection, psychosis frequently arises from psychiatric conditions bit psychosis can also be a symptom of brain dysfunction caused by various medical conditions.

So, what exactly is psychosis?

If you're interested in definitions, I'll provide one here:


Psychosis /saɪˈkoʊsɪs/


An acute or chronic mental state marked by a loss of contact with reality, disorganized speech and behavior, and often accompanied by hallucinations or delusions. Seen in certain mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia, and other medical disorders.


In a broad sense, psychosis means that someone is experiencing an incorrect perception of reality. Individuals may see, hear, or believe things that are not real or think in a way that is insufficiently logical and organized. The primary task for a psychiatrist is to ensure that psychosis is not a consequence of an underlying medical condition, such as a brain infection, tumor, seizure, etc.… and then to determine the psychiatric illness causing it.


If psychosis persists for an extended period, doctors will consider illnesses like schizophrenia. However, many other psychiatric disorders can also result in the detachment from reality that we label as psychosis. A good example is the diagnosis of Major Depressive Disorder. The severity of depression is categorized as mild, moderate, or severe. When severe depression might present with psychotic features, indicating that the person is so profoundly depressed that they start experiencing things that are not real. For instance, hearing voices telling them they are ugly and worthless or developing delusional beliefs, such as being guilty of committing horrible acts, feeling of personal responsibility for global sufferings, such as wars or natural catastrophes.


While this may sound alarming, psychosis is highly treatable. A trained psychiatrist knows how to recognize, diagnose, and treat individuals experiencing psychosis.

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