Psychosis is one of those mental health conditions which has gained an unwanted reputation in recent years due to its misrepresentation in film and other media. It’s often portrayed as a jumble of multiple conditions, making it a somewhat catch-all term for someone who’s either dangerous or unhinged. The proper definition, however, lies somewhere within the entanglement of that perception. It sees the individual lose contact with reality, which is typified by delusions (false ideas about the world around them), and hallucinations (seeing and hearing things that aren’t there.) The confusion surrounding psychosis comes in when it presents as a symptom with other conditions such as the manic phase bipolar I, as well as schizophrenia, PTSD, and schizoaffective disorder. Here are eight of the most common myths about psychosis to help you gain a better understanding of the condition.
1. People with Psychosis Are Psychopaths
The first big misconception is that to be psychotic means you’re a psychopath. It’s an easy assumption to make given the phonetics of both terms are so similar. But they describe two very different conditions. Psychosis, as detailed above, is a disconnection from reality that is temporary and often symptomatic of another condition. Psychopathy, on the other hand, is a term used to describe someone who suffers from a mental health condition characterised by the manipulation and/or abuse of one or more individuals. It is a behavioural condition, which sees the individual operate with a complete lack of empathy for those around them.
2. People Experiencing Psychosis Are Dangerous
Another misnomer about this condition is the assumed lust for violence, which has been perpetuated – at least in some part – by fictional characters such as Patrick Bateman in the film, Psycho. So much has this become a part of pop culture and accepted vernacular that to call someone a psycho immediately brings up connotations of someone who’s dangerous and not to be trusted. The real truth is that psychosis and violence are not related. It is simply a disconnection from reality. And while this may cause the person in question to exhibit some ‘unusual’ behaviour to the causal onlooker, it is rarely if ever dangerous.
3. It Only Happens to Certain Damaged Individuals
This perception tends to apply across the board to all mental health conditions. People believe it can ‘never happen to them,’ that they’re too strong to succumb to anything as debilitating as psychosis. But the reality is, given the right – or wrong – set of circumstances, anyone can suffer a psychotic break in their personality. It’s estimated that around 3 in 100 people, or roughly 3% of the population will experience a psychotic episode in their life. Psychosis is not determined by age, gender, race or culture. It, like many other mental health conditions, doesn’t discriminate.
4. People with Psychosis Have Multiple Personalities
Again, this is assumption is in large part down to the portrayal of psychosis in TV and film. It’s suggested that the individual will suddenly snap and become a completely different person for an extended period of time before reverting to their original personality often with no memory of what’s happened. It’s an interesting ‘story mechanic,’ but unfortunately, it’s not grounded in reality. The onset of psychosis will occur at the very least over a period of a couple of hours, and more commonly, over the course of a few days. While an individual’s perception of reality is altered, their actual personality remains largely intact.
5. Recreational Drugs aren’t to Blame in Psychosis
People like to believe that drugs are the antidote to psychosis. But the truth is that they can actually be the cause of it if there is underlying mental instability or if the substance in question has been abused either in the short or long-term. Drugs that are known to cause this condition when taken in an unsafe environment or inappropriate circumstances, include, hallucinogens (LSD and Psilocybin), amphetamines, cocaine and even cannabis. In fact, even prescription medications can cause psychosis although it’s rare and usually only experienced with those that are used to treat mental health conditions.
6. Psychosis is Caused by Bad Parenting
The key element to be aware of that helps debunk this myth is that psychosis isn’t a behavioural problem. Therefore, it cannot be the result of an individual experiencing a bad or difficult childhood. There are only two ways in which parenting could be a contributing issue to psychosis. And these are when recreational drugs may have been sought as a refuge from insufferable parents. Or, when there have been intense and prolonged periods of abuse that has caused the individual to suffer emotional distress. The only other way parents could factor into a diagnosis is again indirectly passing on the gene to their offspring. But bad parenting itself is never the sole cause of psychosis.
7. People with Psychosis Can’t Normal Lives
When people hear the term psychosis, the automatic assumption is one of chronic and debilitating distress. Once again, film and tv would have you think that someone suffering from it would be committed to an insane asylum at the first possible opportunity. But the truth is most people who experience psychosis only experience one or two episodes and are often able to find a way to mitigate the effects with the help of their doctor to prevent any future episodes from recurring. Psychosis often has an underlying cause, which is very treatable.
8. Psychosis is the Result of a Flawed Personality
A person’s character has nothing to do with the onset of psychosis. It doesn’t happen to bad people, leaving all of the ‘well-adjusted’ population in peace. As we’ve already discussed, it can happen to anyone. According to the DSM-5, psychosis can be the result of many factors including substance abuse, underlying mental health conditions and many other unknown factors. But it states nothing about the integrity of an individual or their character having any bearing on the condition. The assumption of psychosis being linked to personality is something of an outdated assumption from the days when the condition was thought to be caused by demonic possession.
About the author:
Dr Becky Spelman is a leading UK Psychologist who’s had great success helping her clients manage and overcome a multitude of mental illnesses.
***If you’re struggling with psychosis and think you might benefit from speaking to someone, we offer a FREE 15-MINUTE CONSULTATION with one of our specialists to help you find the best way to move forward. You can book yours here.
Psychology Today (4th Nov 2019) 10 Subtle Signs of Psychosis. Retrieved on 23rd March 2021 from, https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/the-superhuman-mind/201610/10-subtle-signs-psychosis
Webmd (13th Jul 2019) Psychosis and Psychotic Episodes. Retrieved on 23rd March 2021 from, https://www.webmd.com/schizophrenia/guide/what-is-psychosis#:~:text=Psychosis%20is%20a%20condition%20that,or%20trauma%20can%20cause%20it.
8 Common Myths About Psychosis (Debunked) was last modified: July 5th, 2021 by Dr Becky Spelman
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