UTG Medical Students’ Association
Sometimes people suddenly start to hear voices, lose their sense of touch with the real world, and we immediately think “oh she/he is possessed by jinn”, or “he/she needs deliverance, let’s call the pastor or imam”. We start to associate it with spiritual forces, it’s strange and scary, yes, but what if it is more than just jinn or deliverance or supernatural or spiritual being? What if it’s more than that? There are many types of mental illnesses, one of which correlates with the above symptom is Psychosis.
What is psychosis?
Psychosis is associated with several illnesses that affect the brain. It is when people lose some contact with reality or perceive the real world differently than others. They tend to hear, see and feel what others don’t experience and sometimes tend to believe that there is a conspiracy against them. It is usually used to refer to an experience and occurs in episodes (the period where one experiences psychotic symptoms). Some episodes last for weeks, others months, and others may never recover from it.
Early detection of warning signs and symptoms of psychosis is important
It is important to pay attention to the first psychotic episode symptoms. According to the National Institute for Mental Health(NIMH), there are warning or behavioral signs that may occur before the first psychotic episode and these are;
1. A sudden decrease in school or work performance or output
2. Troubles with concentration or rationality
3. Poor communication skills
4. Feelings of paranoia and suspicions
5. Poor personal hygiene or disinterest in self-care
6. Having strong, inappropriate feelings or no feelings at all
7. Loneliness or isolation from loved ones and the society
In some cases, the psychotic episodes may be mild at the beginning but may become severe or intense as it progresses.
There are 3 most significant symptoms of psychosis. These symptoms kind of sum up the early signs mentioned earlier in the first psychotic episode.
This involves seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, and feeling things that are not present. The most common form of hallucination is hearing voices otherwise known as auditory hallucinations. They may hear voices clearly and distinctly too. This particular form is very scary and stressful especially if the voices are somewhat threatening or commanding. Seeing objects that do not exist is also common as well and distressful because no one except you share the vision. This may out of frustration and depression lead to self-harm or suicide. Some people describe this as a lonely phase or experience because no one understands or hears or sees or feels what they do.
This is a false belief that is strongly maintained by an individual even though it is not true or has no connections with reality. In simpler terms, a delusion is a form of illusion or fantasy, or misbelief.
A delusion could appear in different forms; it could be:
a. Delusions of grandeur: This is when one feels that they are of high importance than others all of a sudden or that a person has a special power.
b. Delusions of paranoia: This is when someone constantly feels like he or she is watched or that there are conspiracies or plots to harm them. It creates fear and anxiety.
c. Somatic delusions: This is when someone feels that they are terminally ill or have a particular disease while in reality there’s nothing wrong with them. They’re perfectly healthy.
d. Erotomanic delusions: this is a belief that someone is in love with them when it is actually the opposite or the feeling does not even exist for the latter.
A combination of delusions and hallucinations can cause extreme stress and a change of attitude because they seem real to the person it is happening to.
3. Disorganized thinking and speech
This might also be referred to as a formal thought disorder. Some professionals use certain terms like racing thoughts or flight of ideas to describe and understand what they are experiencing. A racing thought is when thoughts go throw the head fast as though they are in a race. One tends to think a lot and very fast, which is quite difficult to control. A flight of thoughts is when those thoughts move quickly creating ideas and making connections and meanings that other people don’t see. It is as though one is solving a non-existent puzzle in the head.
People experiencing this tend to speak fast making it difficult for others to understand what is being said, they tend to lose focus or freeze mid-sentence (catatonia) they are always in possession of new ideas, and they also tend to change the topic of conversations quickly.
Other symptoms that may be present in a psychotic patient are depression, anxiety, lack of sleep, isolation from society, loneliness, no motivation, trouble focusing, etc.
Causes of psychosis
The actual cause of psychosis is not so known. It could sometimes be a symptom of mental conditions like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and sometimes severe depression. Trauma, sleep deprivation, genetics, drug abuse, certain prescribed medications, alcohol, and smoking among other things.
Who does psychosis affect?
Psychosis affects different kinds of people. It sometimes begins when a person is in his/her late teens or mid–twenties. It can also affect adults most especially older adults as they are at a greater risk of psychotic depression. People with family members that have psychotic disorders are more likely to experience psychosis. Studies have shown that children with a genetic mutation known as 22q11.2 deletion syndrome are also likely to have psychosis.
Effects of psychosis
Psychosis affects people differently. Some claim to have had positive experiences with psychosis. They claim that hearing the voices of a beloved one brings them comfort and peace and helps them become innovative and a better person. Others experience psychosis quite differently. It frightens and demoralizes them making them incapable of doing basic activities, making them lose trust in family and friends, and making them confused and weak all the time. They tend to push those who love and care for them away and are most often misunderstood by many. A psychotic episode may be traumatic for family members too because they don’t share the same beliefs a psychotic patient shares. It may also lead to self-hurt or harm and in some cases suicide.
Is psychosis a dead end?
So many people believe that there is no redemption for anyone with psychosis, even psychotic patients themselves, and families believe so too. I’m a firm believer in the famous saying “so long as there is life, there is hope” and so there is hope for psychotic patients. Psychosis can be treated and controlled. One can be free of psychosis.
Before one is treated for psychosis, the diagnosis comes first. This diagnosis is done by a health care professional (qualified psychiatrist, psychologist, or social worker). The healthcare professional uses a method called psychiatric evaluation which involves carefully observing the patient’s behaviors and asking questions about what they’re feeling and experiencing.
The healthcare professional might also conduct a thorough history to determine whether there’s any case of psychosis in the patient’s family.
Medical tests which may include mental and neurological exams are also conducted to know whether there is an underlying illness causing the symptoms.
A combination of therapy and medications is used to treat psychosis.
1. Antipsychotic medications: These can be used to manage and reduce psychotic symptoms. These medications are taken under the supervision of your health care professional and like all medications have risks as well as benefits. They could be taken for a short time in some patients, while in others, a long time.
2. Individual or group therapy: This occurs in the form of cognitive behavioral therapy. This therapy is focused on the patient’s needs, building coping skills, and health and wellness management.
3. Family intervention: This is also important in the treatment of psychosis. It is a form of therapy that involves family members, partners, and even close friends. They are taught about psychosis, coping with, managing, solving problems, and planning for a crisis.
Early treatment of psychosis is very important because it results in a better recovery.
One should always watch out for the early symptoms of psychosis to prevent negative outcomes. However, in the case of a severe psychotic symptom, admission to a psychiatric hospital for treatment is necessary, like Tanka Tanka in the Gambia.
Psychotic episodes vary from person to person, they are confusing to understand, maybe aggressive, threatening, self-harming, and suicidal. If you notice these changes in behavior and if they intensify, it is important to seek help. Psychosis is treatable, there are many stories of survivors and you are not an exception. Showing signs of psychosis doesn’t mean you’re possessed with jinn or in need of deliverance, the best thing to do if you notice the above-mentioned sign and symptom is to take the patient to a healthcare professional who will then diagnose properly.
Call 911 in the case of self-harm and suicide. Take the person to Tanka tanka, a psychiatric hospital in the Gambia, for treatment.
You are not alone in this fight!