Learn the truth about psychosis and how several common myths regarding psychosis have been debunked.
There are several myths about psychosis, including what it is and what causes it. Psychosis is a temporary mental state — not a disease or condition — in which someone becomes detached from reality. People’s misunderstanding of basic psychosis facts comes from a lack of understanding of what psychosis actually is.
Myth 1: People with psychosis are psychopaths.
Fact: There is a difference between psychosis and psychopathy.
Psychosis is a disconnect from reality that is normally temporary and is often due to a mental health condition or drug use. Psychopathy is a term used to describe a mental health condition characterized by manipulation or abuse that may harm others either emotionally or physically to obtain personal desires.
People who are psychopathic will not typically have psychosis and may be at a higher risk of deliberately hurting other people. Psychosis, on the other hand, will not normally cause those afflicted by it to deliberately harm others. Understandably, those with psychosis are afraid of the disconnect from reality that they experience and will likely experience fear, confusion and decreased ability to interact normally with others.
Myth #2: People experiencing psychotic symptoms are dangerous.
Fact: Those with psychotic symptoms are not likely to deliberately harm others.
While the popular movie “Psycho” has contributed to the idea that psychosis makes someone violent and unhinged, this is simply not in line with reality. Even in popular slang, calling someone “psycho” is normally reserved for those who are thought to be irrational and violent. While there is a stigma that psychosis and violence are related, the truth is that psychosis is simply a temporary disconnect from reality. People with psychosis may hear voices or see things that others do not and may believe things to be true that are not. While this disconnect may cause unusual behavior, it will not cause the person to suddenly become aggressive. Psychosis only causes a change in someone’s perception — not in their personality. Unfortunately, the bizarre behavior that results from their change in perception may cause some people to fear that there is an increased risk of aggression when there actually is not.
While someone with psychosis will not be more likely to become aggressive or violent towards others, psychosis can create a small increase in the likelihood of danger to the person experiencing it. The disconnect from reality may impair their ability to perceive hazards. For example, they may not recognize traffic as they normally would and may attempt to cross a road with vehicles that are oncoming. The only dangers that are normally caused by psychosis are those connected with the change in the perception of reality, not by changes in personality or behavior. With psychosis, danger to others is rare and highly unlikely.
Myth #3: It can’t happen to you.
Fact: Psychosis can happen to anyone.
Psychosis statistics show that about 3 in 100 people, or 3%, will experience a psychotic episode in their lives. Psychosis is not restricted to certain genders, ages, diseases or cultures. While the prevalence of psychosis may be higher for young adults or adolescents, it can affect anyone. Many people mistakenly believe that psychosis is somehow the fault of the person who has it and that there must be a reason that they have it. While medications or recreational drugs can be a cause of psychosis, there is often nothing that can be done to prevent an episode of psychosis. The person experiencing psychosis cannot control their ability to connect with reality, and anyone can experience a psychotic episode at any point in their lives. Even if you do not have many or any risk factors of psychosis, there is still a possibility, albeit quite a small one, that you may experience psychosis at some point in your life.
Myth #4: People with psychosis have split personalities.
Fact: People with psychosis do not have split personalities.
This myth stems from the idea that someone with psychosis will “snap” and suddenly become disconnected from reality. Psychosis does not normally have the sudden onset that is commonly portrayed on TV, and it will usually develop over a period of at least a few hours, if not days. Psychosis is a disconnect from reality and will change how the person affected by it perceives reality. However, their personality will remain mostly the same and they will typically interact with their altered state reality in a way that is consistent with their personality.
There is a mental health condition called dissociative identity disorder (DID) that does cause split personalities. DID causes the feeling that there are two or more distinct personalities within a single person, and a person with dissociative identity disorder may suddenly switch between personalities, with accompanying changes in behavior. However, DID does not normally cause psychosis, and, while dissociative identity disorder does involve a certain type of disconnect with reality, it is distinct from psychosis.
Myth #5: Drugs can’t induce psychosis.
Fact: A common cause of psychosis is drug use.
Using drugs, either to treat an illness or recreationally, may cause a drug-induced psychosis. Several recreational drugs are known to create a risk of psychosis, including cocaine, methamphetamines, or even cannabis. Some other recreational drugs almost always cause psychosis, with the worst of these being synthetic cathinones, more commonly referred to by the street name “bath salts.”
In addition to the street drugs, psychosis may also be experienced as a side effect of prescription medications. Medications that are used to treat mental illnesses tend to have a greater likelihood of causing psychosis; however, there are several other medications that can cause psychosis. Even pain medication or anesthesia can lead to temporary episodes of psychosis.
Those who are concerned about developing psychosis should avoid taking any kind of recreational drug and should only take medications that are prescribed by their physician, following up with their doctor for regular monitoring as recommended.
Myth #6: Psychosis is contagious.
Fact: Symptoms of psychosis are almost never contagious.
Psychosis causes typically include an underlying mental health condition, use of drugs or exposure to extreme emotional or physical stress. None of these causes can be transferred from one person to another. There are some extremely rare cases in which psychosis may be caused by a medical condition. If this medical condition is contagious, such as rabies, then the symptoms of psychosis that it causes can be experienced by others who catch that disease from an infected person. However, this is not really a case of psychosis being contagious as much as it is a disease that causes psychosis being contagious. Psychosis itself is never contagious.
Myth #7: Psychosis is caused by bad parenting.
Fact: Psychosis is not typically related to one’s upbringing.
Some people tend to believe that individuals who experience psychosis have been raised incorrectly or that during their upbringing they developed a behavioral problem that caused them to develop a psychotic condition. The key to recognizing this myth is the fact that psychosis is not a behavioral problem nor something that the affected person can control.
There are only two ways in which parenting could be thought to influence the development of psychosis risk factors.
- Using recreational drugs. Drug use can increase the chance of psychosis and could be a behavior that is influenced by parenting.
- Environmental risk factors. The main environmental risk factor that raises the risk of psychosis is abuse or excessive stress on a child. Parenting that inflicts prolonged or extreme physical and emotional stress on a child may cause them to develop psychosis later in life.
In addition to these rare exceptions in parenting, parents may play a small role in the risk for psychosis by passing a psychosis genetic predisposition on to their children. Genetics can play a role in increasing the risk of psychosis, and parents who have struggled with psychosis may be more likely to pass on those genetic traits to their children.
Myth #8: People with psychosis can’t lead normal lives.
Fact: There are many people living with psychosis who lead normal and productive lives.
People who have psychosis or know someone affected by psychosis often wonder, “Can someone with psychosis live a normal life?” It is understandable that the concept of living with psychosis could be worrying, but thankfully it doesn’t need to be. Many people with psychosis only have one or two short-term episodes and either do not experience psychosis again or are able to work with their doctor to find a long-term treatment that helps prevent future episodes. Given that psychosis typically has a more gradual onset, it will also be possible for people who are beginning to experience a psychotic episode to seek medical help.
It will likely not be possible to maintain normal activities during a psychotic episode. However, the frequency and severity of these episodes can be treated. There are several therapies and medications that can effectively prevent psychotic episodes. Prevention of psychosis can also involve focusing on treatment of the underlying causes of psychosis, such as treating a mental health concern or substance addiction.
Myth #9: People with psychotic disorders are crazy.
Fact: If someone has psychosis, it does not mean that they are crazy.
During an episode of psychosis, people may experience bizarre hallucinations or believe things to be true about the world around them that are actually not true. This bizarre behavior and changes in the way that they interact with others, can lead people to believe that the person experiencing psychosis is crazy. In reality, people with psychosis typically behave quite normally when not symptomatic. They may also may never actually have another psychotic episode and lead the rest of their lives without other psychiatric problems.
Myth #10: Psychosis is the result of a character flaw.
Fact: Psychosis is not influenced by character traits.
Many people throughout history have viewed psychosis as the result of moral failure or as something caused by poor character. There is no indication that character plays any role at all in the risk of developing psychosis or in having a psychotic disorder.
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5), psychosis can be caused by many factors, including mental health conditions, substance abuse or even by unknown factors. People with poor character are not more likely to develop psychosis, and those who have psychosis are not more likely to have poor character.
This assumed connection between character and psychosis may date back to the times when psychosis was primarily thought to be caused by demonic influence or possession. Modern medicine and psychiatry now understand that there are many physical or psychological causes of psychosis. Unfortunately, although our understanding of medicine and what causes psychosis has improved, the underlying assumption that someone with psychosis must be a bad person sometimes still persists.
Myth #11: There’s nothing you can do to help a loved one with psychosis.
Fact: There are several ways to help someone with psychosis.
You do not need to be a medical expert or a psychiatrist to assist a loved one who is struggling with psychosis. Helping someone who has psychosis can be done in two main ways. Firstly, support the person who is experiencing psychosis. They will likely be scared, withdrawn and uncertain how to handle their experience, as having a disconnect from reality can be terrifying. Supporting them and providing an understanding of the difficulties of their situation can help them through the episode.
Secondly, encourage the person experiencing psychosis to seek professional treatment. Often, someone who is experiencing psychosis may not understand what is happening to them or that the things that they are experiencing are not real. In these situations, they will not understand that they need help and treatment. Providing them with feedback and helping them to recognize that they need help will be a vital part of supporting someone with psychosis.
Myth #12: Psychosis can’t be treated.
Fact: There are several successful ways to treat psychosis.
Psychosis is a condition that can be treated by modern medicine. Treatment is typically quite effective, even for more severe cases of psychosis. Treatment for psychosis may involve either medications or therapy, typically consisting of a combination of both.
Medications that are used to treat psychosis usually include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), serotonin–norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) and benzodiazepines. These medications all work by influencing how nerve signals are transmitted, helping to regulate brain chemistry and prevent future episodes of psychosis.
Therapy can involve many facets and can focus on understanding potential triggers for psychosis or on helping treat any underlying condition that leads to increased risk for psychotic episodes. By following prescribed treatment strategies, those with psychosis can experience reductions or complete cessation of psychotic episodes.
If you or someone you love is experiencing drug-induced psychosis, The Recovery Village has treatment options available to help. Speak to an admissions representative today for additional information on our available treatment programs.
National Alliance on Mental Illness. “Early Psychosis and Psychosis.” 2019. Accessed May 28, 2019.
Brooks, Megan. “New Insight Into the Psychopathic Brain.” Medscape, Feb. 5, 2015. Accessed May 28, 2019.
Early Psychosis Intervention. “Concerned it may be psychosis?” 2019. Accessed May 28, 2019.
National Institute of Mental Health. “Fact Sheet: First Episode Psychosis.” August 2015. Accessed May 28, 2019.
National Alliance on Mental Illness. “Dissociative Disorders.” 2019. Accessed May 28, 2019.
National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Synthetic Cathinones (“Bath Salts”).” Feb. 2018. Accessed May 28, 2019.
Dean, Kimberlie & Murray, Robin. “Environmental risk factors for psychosis.” Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience, March 2005. Accessed May 28, 2019.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. “Impact of the DSM-IV to DSM-5 Changes on[…]nd Health [Internet].” June 2016. Accessed May 28, 2019.
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