You asked, we answered: How do I know if I, or someone I care about, is having a psychotic episode?

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How do I know if I, or someone I care about, is having a psychotic episode?

Answered by psychiatrist Melissa O’Dell, MD:

When someone has a psychotic episode, they experience reality differently than other people. Psychosis is a symptom that can arise from a variety of mental or physical illnesses.

Some common causes of psychosis include:

  • Sleep deprivation
  • Substance use or withdrawal
  • Neurological conditions
  • Extreme stress

Psychosis can also be a part of a mental health condition, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or severe depression.

When someone is having an episode of psychosis, they experience one or more “positive” symptoms. Positive symptoms refer to thoughts and sensory experiences that are “added on” to a person’s everyday experiences. These include:

  • Hallucinations (Seeing or hearing things that are not there)
  • Delusions (Strong beliefs that are not consistent with reality)
  • Disorganized speech or thought patterns

People who are having an episode of psychosis may also experience negative symptoms, which often begin before positive symptoms and may continue long after the positive symptoms have subsided. Negative symptoms refer to things that are “taken away” or reduced. They may be more subtle and develop over weeks or months. These include:

  • Struggles with social interaction and emotional withdrawal
  • Lowered motivation and decreased enjoyment
  • Limited emotional expression
  • Lack of attention to hygiene and grooming
  • Impaired concentration and slowed thoughts and speech

Intervention is key

Whether you have been struggling with psychotic symptoms for a week or a decade, the best time to start getting help is now. If you or someone you care about has new or concerning symptoms, it is important to seek an evaluation from a qualified mental health practitioner.

The Nebraska Medicine ASPIRE clinic provides a full spectrum of outpatient services for people  diagnosed with a psychotic disorder. ASPIRE’s early intervention program, IMPACT, works with people having a psychotic episode for the first time and their families. With the proper treatment and support, being diagnosed with a psychotic disorder does not have to prevent you from living life to its fullest. Using a team-based approach, the ASPIRE clinic helps patients with:

  • Medication
  • Individual, group and family therapy
  • Finding meaningful activities
  • Support systems and relationships
  • Attending to basic needs
  • Connecting to community resources
  • Primary care

While psychosis can be very frightening both for the individual and for family and friends, psychotic disorders are treatable and do not constitute a life sentence. It is vital to seek help from clinicians who can evaluate and treat psychosis with a focus not just on eliminating symptoms but on helping you recover your overall health and well-being.  As with other health conditions, early intervention leads to better outcomes.

To learn more about the ASPIRE clinic and its IMPACT program for early psychosis intervention or to talk to a provider, call 800.922.0000.