When under a lot of stress or pressure, many of us joke about being on the verge of a "mental breakdown" or "losing my mind." But in truth, experiencing psychosis is no laughing matter, and the actual symptoms of psychosis aren't something to joke about. Mental health is a serious topic, and one that often goes undiscussed in our culture. Because of the stigmas surrounding mental health, many people feel in the dark regarding their own mental health. I'm willing to bet a lot of us wonder if we're experiencing symptoms of x or y illness, only to spend hours researching it on our own (usually with mixed results) and never actually going to the doctor. Mental health treatment can be expensive, especially for those of us without insurance, but it can also feel shameful to seek out.
In fact, no one on the Internet can diagnose you. You can use the Internet, however, to educate yourself on mental illness, research your symptoms, and explore options for treatment. Of course, there's a spectrum of mental illnesses, including some which are extremely rare, so it's not a guarantee your Googling will lead you to the right place (again: that's why you can't get a real diagnosis on the Internet).
Whether you've struggled with mental illness in the past or not, if signs are appearing, it's always in your best interest to talk to a professional and figure out what's on your radar. That said, some mental illnesses are much more commonly understood than others, but that doesn't make the less discussed ones less serious or less real. An example of this phenomena is psychosis, which refers to a loss of contact with reality. Psychosis is typically understood to be a symptom of a mental illness like bipolar disorder, but one can also experience psychosis without meeting the diagnostics for other mental illnesses. That is to say, experiencing psychosis is not the only symptom for diagnosis of a psychotic or mood disorder.
If you read the symptoms and signs of the disorder below and identify with them, it may be a sign it's time for you to seek professional help.
1. Identify What Your Symptoms Could Be
Common symptoms associated with psychosis include hallucinations and delusions. Often, these hallucinations involve hearing or seeing things that are not there, smelling, tasting, or feeling things that have no cause (insects crawling under your skin is a common one), or seeing people shift shapes. Delusions are different from hallucinations: These are generally untrue or unlikely beliefs you hold very deeply, but which seem trivial or irrational to others. Examples of delusions include believing you have super powers, that you are God, or that people are out to get you.
2. Recognize Your Symptoms
In a 2011 report released from the National Alliance on Mental Illness, roughly "40 percent of individuals who experienced psychosis said initial insight came from recognizing symptoms themselves," though only 13 percent of family of individuals experiencing psychosis claim the individual recognized their own symptoms. While it's always important to introspect and evaluate your thoughts, behaviors, and feelings, it's a good move to have a close bond with family (or friends, or other loved ones) as well, as there may be a disparity between what you recognize in your own mental health, and what signs they pick up on sooner.
3. Know You Aren't Alone
A research study out of the World Health Organization surveyed 31,000 people of the general population and found that one out of 20 experienced hallucinations while not under the influence of drugs, alcohol, or sleep. The study also excluded people with diagnoses like schizophrenia or bipolar, which frequently involve experiencing hallucinations. What does this mean? You may experience psychosis, but it does not necessarily mean you have a specific mental illness. Of people who experience psychosis and do identify with a mental illness, you are still not alone: data released from the CDC explains that roughly four percent of the population has bipolar disorder, and the rates of bipolar disorder are higher for women than men. Schizophrenia affects roughly one percent of the population, and of that one percent, two out of 10 are women.
4. Seek Help
While experiencing psychosis has the potential to be life-altering and debilitating, there are treatment options for those experiencing psychosis available. Treatment for psychosis varies depending on the underlying cause, or if it is experienced on its own, or alongside with other symptoms. Often, for example, treatments for schizophrenia include a life-long combination of medication and therapy, even when symptoms have subsided. The same is said about treatment for bipolar disorder, in that it is a life-long condition, and treatment (usually a combination of medications and therapy) is necessary even when symptoms aren't disrupting your life. Community and familial support are key, as are developing routines and consistency.
If you can't afford a doctor, or don't have access to one, there are online resources available. For instance, you can text a therapist for free and call free mental health hotlines. If you feel you are experiencing symptoms, never be afraid to reach out for help or accept it when it's offered.
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