“I can’t seem to get the voices out of my head.”
Almost every adult knows someone with an anxiety disorder or clinical depression. Not everyone knows of someone with psychosis; however, psychosis may be more common than you think. Around 3 out of every 100 people experience a psychotic episode making it more common than diabetes. Schizophrenia is a mental illness that the general population tends to know less about, so I thought it could be a good topic to write about this month. Schizophrenia is a mental illness characterized by symptoms of psychosis including: delusions, hallucinations, disorganized speech, disorganized or catatonic behavior, and/or negative symptoms (such as lacking emotional expression). Psychosis affects the mind and involves some aspect of losing touch with reality. A common presentation of Schizophrenia is a client reporting that he hears voices in his head. Sometimes these voices are command voices and will tell the person what to do. The age of onset for a psychotic disorder is usually when a person is in their young adult years; however, teens and older adults can experience a first episode of psychosis as well. Some scientists believe psychosis is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. Drug-induced psychosis is when a person uses a drug that triggers the psychosis. Stress can also trigger the onset of psychosis. Anyone can experience psychosis. A common misconception about persons with psychosis is that they are violent. Persons with psychotic disorders are very rarely violent.
When a person experiences a first episode of psychosis, it is often a very confusing and scary thing for the both the person who experienced the episode and the person’s loved ones. The good news that is through antipsychotic medication, a person experiencing psychosis can be stabilized. Taking medications regularly as prescribed can reduce the severity of symptoms and prevent relapse from occurring. Through ongoing use of the medication in addition to counseling, these persons can learn to recover from the episode of psychosis returning back to or close to their previous level of functioning. Approximately 70-90% of people who experience psychosis and then go on meds and receive treatment will experience an improved level of functioning and an improved quality of life. An evidence-based program called Navigate is a model found to be highly effective with first episode psychosis and it involves individual resiliency training, family education, supported employment and education, case management, and medication management. Clients who engage in the Navigate Program are in outpatient treatment for an average of two years. Many people with psychosis who receive treatment such as this are able to go to school, go to work, have families, be productive members of society, and/or live full and rewarding lives.
What about those who do not receive treatment? Approximately 5-10% of people with Schizophrenia will commit suicide. There is a particularly high risk of suicide after a person has experienced a first episode of psychosis. In other words, an important take away from this blog is that if you or a loved one is experiencing psychosis, you should seek out help. Treatment is important and the sooner you or your loved one receives it, the sooner you or your loved one can start to feel better.