Mental Health Matters: Psychosis

Green paper ripped to reveal the word 'psychosis'What does the term ‘Psycho‘ mean to you? Does it conjure up images of a person being dangerously violent, maybe attacking people out of nowhere or simply exploding into a fit of rage for no apparent reason?

It is unfortunate that the stigma around Psychosis is such that a majority of people will think this to be the case, thanks in no small part to the portrayal of mentally ill people in the media and their indiscriminate use of the term. I’m sure a certain film with a motel will have featured in everyone’s thoughts, there is however a difference between a Psychopath and Psychosis – this blog will be looking at the latter.

So What is Psychosis?

List of Psychosis Symptoms surround an anxious looking girlWhilst it is true that Psychosis is a mental health condition, it rarely results in a person experiencing Psychosis committing violent acts or hurting someone else. Psychosis is a condition where sufferers comprehend or interpret reality differently from those around them.

These experiences are commonly in the form of hallucinations, delusions, and disorganised thinking and speech. Hallucinations can be good or bad, they can be physical, such as tastes or smells, audible such as hearing voices, or visual by seeing things that aren’t there, or seeing things move in ways that usually wouldn’t.

Good, or positive hallucinations could be seeing close family members or loved ones, animals or religious figures that provide some comfort for the person experiencing them. Other people may experience bad, or negative hallucinations, these can be very difficult or frightening for the person experiencing them. Voices may be reinforcing negative thoughts or encouraging someone to harm themselves or demons and monsters may be seen.

It can also become even more distressing for the person when these experiences are dismissed as untrue by those around who cannot see or hear them, as the experiences are very real to them.

Disorganised Thinking

White thought bubbles on black backgroundDisorganised thinking may be experienced by people during their Psychotic episode, their thoughts may race, not just thinking quickly as we all do from time to time, but at a speed where they feel out of control. Or, they may have a ‘Flight of Ideas‘, where their thoughts move quickly from one idea to the next making links and seeing meanings between them that other people don’t.

When someone is experiencing disorganised thinking, it may manifest itself audibly through their speech, they may speak very quickly stumbling over words or they may link words together based on their sounds not their meanings (known as ‘word salad‘). Both of these would make understanding the person extremely difficult.

How Can You Help?

Hands holding a heart that says 'support'Communication with someone experiencing Psychosis can be extremely difficult but it is important to remember a few things:

  • Don’t dismiss what the person is telling you they can hear, see, taste or smell. Remember it is very real to them. Explain that you cant hear, see, taste or smell what they can, but that you understand that they can, ask them to explain what they are experiencing and how its making them feel.
  • Ask them if there is anything you can do to help them. Do they want a family member or friend calling who could assist further?
  • If another person is present, try to avoid whispered conversations about what to do, as this could be misinterpreted by the person. Instead be very open about what your plans are, and unless you feel they are in any immediate danger listen to their wishes.

If you think someone is experiencing Psychosis and they are at risk of harm to themselves or other people, dial 999 and request medical assistance. You can also learn more about Psychosis on the Mind and NHS websites.

Written by Neil Ward, Training Consultant at WA Management.

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