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Learning to Detect Early Signs of Psychosis

Psychiatric Treatment
Schizophrenia, Psychosis,

A person is said to be experiencing psychosis when their thoughts and perceptions make it hard for them to know what is real. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 3 in 10 people in the U.S. will have a psychotic episode in their lifetimes, and about 100,000 young people experience psychosis each year. In fact, psychosis typically occurs in the late teen or early adult years, although younger or older people may develop psychosis.

For many, a psychotic episode is an isolated incident. For others, it may be the beginning of a long-term struggle with psychosis that could manifest as a disorder like schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder. 

What Causes Psychosis?

Much is still unknown about the causes of psychosis. However, it’s clear that multiple factors are typically at play and may include the following

  • Genetics – just as with other mental health disorders, certain genes can play a role in psychosis, although having those genes does not mean someone will experience psychosis
  • Hormones – Young people going through the hormonal changes of puberty are more at risk for psychotic experiences
  • Trauma – certain traumatic experiences can cause a psychotic episode or even the development of schizophrenia
  • Physical illness or injury – Brain injuries, diseases, and tumors can sometimes cause psychosis, as well as strokes and HIV 
  • Mental health disorders – anxiety disorders, depression, and bipolar disorder can potentially trigger psychosis

Substance use and sleep deprivation can also lead to psychotic experiences, as can some prescription medications. 

You might notice that for many of these causes, stress is an underlying factor. Trauma causes stress, puberty causes stress, illness causes stress. In fact, intense stress can itself bring on a psychotic experience or trigger a relapse in someone who has already experienced psychosis.

Early Signs of Psychosis

Despite all that we still don’t know about psychosis, what we do know is that early detection and intervention can change the course of the illness–and potentially someone’s life. If you suspect that yourself or a loved one might be prone to psychosis or experiencing stress, trauma, or substance use to a dangerous degree, look for the following signs of early psychosis:

  • The person confuses the real and imaginary. They may recognize that something strange is happening to them. 
  • The person may feel like they are being watched. 
  • The person does not feel fully in control of their thoughts.
  • The person may talk about seeing or hearing things others don’t, such as jumbled voices or figures in their peripheral vision.
  • The person may feel unsettled by these experiences and ask for help making sense of them. 

Other signs that may point to an upcoming psychotic episode can include withdrawing from family and friends, a decline in personal hygiene and health, trouble concentrating, and strong or inappropriate emotions (or the apparent absence of emotions). 

Seeking out an assessment, like the free, confidential assessments we offer at Miramont Behavioral Health, is the first step to take when you detect signs of psychosis in yourself or a person you love. The clinician can help you determine whether the episode is singular or a symptom of a condition like schizophrenia. 

Either way, psychosis and psychotic disorders are treatable. Antipsychotic medications may be prescribed, along with coordinated specialty care, which can include a multidisciplinary team that provides individual and group therapy, family education and support, assistance with employment and educational goals, and access to resources. 

Here at our Middleton, Wisconsin, facility, we work with young people, adults, and seniors who are struggling with psychosis, psychotic disorders, or other mental health conditions. Our compassionate team will work together to provide you and your family the treatment, education, and support you need to recover a sense of control and well-being. Contact us today.

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