I suffer from two anxiety disorders which can cause hallucinations and when at their worse; I experienced these several times a day for well over a decade. I came to the conclusion that I was experiencing psychosis. However, when I brought this up when attending one-to-one schema therapy, my therapist told me that I didn’t have psychosis, but was instead experiencing psychotic episodes. So what exactly does that mean?
What are Psychotic Episodes?
Mind, the mental health charity, tells us that psychotic episodes are also called a ‘psychotic experience’ or ‘psychosis’, therefore their names are interchangeable, but what they really are is the same thing.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, psychosis is a word that can be used to describe a number of different conditions that affect the mind that can cause a disconnect with reality. This can also be known as a psychotic episode, which supports what Mind said.
Because someone suffering from psychosis can have delusions and hallucinations, they can struggle with knowing what’s real and what’s not. The person’s perceptions and thoughts can also become disturbed. Thus, they can have incoherent and nonsense speech and engage in behaviour that is inappropriate or unusual.
When I had my first psychotic break, I reached a point where I could only say one phrase, “what’s going on?”. That was because I stopped trusting what I was experiencing as my reality and thought my reality was wrong and everyone else could see what I couldn’t. I thought that something was wrong with me which I was unaware of. That’s what cocktailing seven different drugs with alcohol and not sleeping for days will do to you. I had a drug-induced psychotic break.
What you also need to know is that psychotic disorders appear on a spectrum, much like autism, with schizoid personality disorder and schizophrenia making up the mild and severe ends of the spectrum, respectively (Arciniegas, 2015).
There are several ways to end up experiencing psychosis. You can have schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder, and you can also be affected if you have depression or bipolar (HereToHelp). In conditions like bipolar, where they have psychotic symptoms, what they experience is determined by the current mood, meaning if you’re happy, your psychosis will also be a happy theme (Arciniegas, 2015).
But that’s not all. If you’ve read my previous article ‘The Unusual Link Between Drug-Induced Psychosis And My Anxieties‘, then you’d be aware that psychosis can also be triggered by substance use. I don’t know if this is unique to me, but also withdrawing from mood stabilisers caused me to live in a psychotic state for three straight months with no respite.
Machielsen, van der Sluis, and de Haan (2010) conducted a study into the comorbid nature of substance use and psychiatric disorders. With the use of 169 participants with a psychotic disorder and 59 participants who were considered being ultra-high risk of psychosis, the study found an association between cannabis use and psychosis. 45% of the 169 psychotic disorder participants had a comorbid diagnosis of a cannabis use disorder, with 92.2% of those with comorbid cannabis use disorder using cannabis before the onset of their first psychotic episode.
Therefore, this study suggests that cannabis can increase the likelihood of someone developing a psychotic disorder. I know this was the likely cause of my own psychosis (The Unusual Link Between Drug-Induced Psychosis And My Anxieties).
Simply put, there isn’t one specific cause of psychosis (National Institute of Mental Health, NIMH). It can be a symptom of mental illness and substance abuse, but it can also be a result of stress (HereToHelp), developmental (Arciniegas, 2015), sleep deprivation (NIMH), degenerative neurological disorders (Arciniegas, 2015), and even head trauma and lupus (HereToHelp): which I was surprised to find out.
I know when I had insomnia and would often go days without sleep, even pushing close to a week and a half before I finally just stopped functioning and slept. During those times, I had episodes of psychosis that only stopped when I finally slept, after becoming a physical wreck.
First Onset Of Psychosis
Approximately 20% of those who are affected by psychosis will only experience a single episode (Alvarez-Jimenez et al., 2011), so maybe that’s why they coined the term, ‘psychotic episode’ to explain such occurrences.
Another problem with those of us who experience psychosis is that we don’t tend to seek medical attention once the symptoms start, if at all (Byrne, 2007). I know I was suffering from psychosis for years before I ever brought it up with someone. It took me being arrested before I finally sort help about it when I finally decided enough was enough.
There is another term you might not be familiar with, and that’s ‘brief psychotic disorder’, which Arciniegas (2015) defines for us. This disorder is for when you have the symptoms of psychosis, such as delusions and hallucinations, but which can’t be explained by another psychiatric disorder, health condition, or substance use. People who experience this will only experience it for between one day and a month before returning to normal psychological functioning.
My Take Away On Psychotic Episodes
Psychotic episodes, or psychosis, can affect anyone for a whole host of reasons, it’s not just something people with schizophrenia can be afflicted with. Furthermore, knowing that it can be caused by something that isn’t a mental health condition is also eye-opening. Knowing and understanding that will help us to reduce the stigma so people will seek help sooner.
When my schema therapist told me I didn’t have psychosis but had suffered from psychotic episodes, they were both right and wrong, because they’re one and the same thing. So I guess the question is, do I say I’m someone who has psychotic episodes or someone that has psychosis?
As always, leave your feedback in the comments section below. Also, feel free to share your experiences with psychotic episodes and your understanding of them in the comments section below as well. If you want to stay up-to-date with my blog, then sign up for my newsletter below. Alternatively, get push notifications for new articles by clicking the red bell icon in the bottom right corner.
Lastly, if you’d like to support my blog, then you can make a donation of any size below as well. Until next time,
Unwanted Life readers.
Alvarez-Jimenez, M., Gleeson, J. F., Henry, L. P., Harrigan, S. M., Harris, M. G., Amminger, G. P., Killackey, E., Yung, A. R., Herrman, H., Jackson, H. J., & McGorry, P. D. (2011). Prediction of a Single Psychotic Episode: A 7.5-Year, Prospective Study in First-Episode Psychosis. Schizophrenia Research, 125(2-3), 236–246. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1016/j.schres.2010.10.020
Arciniegas D. B. (2015). Psychosis. Continuum (Minneapolis, Minn.), 21(3 Behavioral Neurology and Neuropsychiatry), 715–736. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1212/01.CON.0000466662.89908.e7
Byrne P. (2007). Managing the Acute Psychotic Episode. BMJ (Clinical research ed.), 334(7595), 686–692. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.39148.668160.80
Machielsen, M., van der Sluis, S., & de Haan, L. (2010). Cannabis Use in Patients with a First Psychotic Episode and Subjects at Ultra High Risk of Psychosis: Impact on Psychotic- and Pre-Psychotic Symptoms. Australian & New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 44(8), 721–728. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.3109/00048671003689710
44 thoughts on “What You Need To Know About Psychotic Episodes”
I commend you for sharing your story. I had no idea cannabis would play a part in psychotic disorders, but makes sense. This must have been frustrating going through all of this and not knowing what was truly happening with you. So many people shrug it off as incidents that just happen every now and then without thinking it could be something more serious that needs attention.
There’s a phrase for it, cannabis psychosis. I first came across research being done around that in the 90s
This is something new to me. I don’t know anything about this before reading your article, but it looks quite serious. Thank you for spreading these kinds of informations.
I’m glad I was able to show you something new and interesting
I had no idea that marijuana could trigger psychosis. I am sorry for your difficult journey but appreciate you sharing your knowledge. Thank you!
Cannabis seems to be one notable cause of psychosis, but it isn’t the only illegal drug that can trigger it
Very interesting post, Unwanted Life, thank you for sharing your experience, too. Fascinating to think about the implications as marijuana becomes legalized in more places – will it lead to an increase in initial onset of psychotic disorders? I work with the elderly, so wanted to add that although not the same, delirium is a common side effect of a urinary tract infection (UTI), but the UTI may be missed if it is assumed the person is developing dementia due to age. However, UTIs have been associated with other neuropsychiatric disorders, and may play a role in the pathophysiology of relapse of affective and nonaffective psychosis, according to this research from the US National Institute of Health: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6834351/ Just found it interesting, and thought you would, too.
Thanks for sharing that information and the link, I had no idea a UTI could cause that. I would have never put the two together. But it doesn’t surprise me that symptoms like this could be over looked as just being related to dementia and old age
I really learned a lot about psychotic episodes from this post, it’s very informative. I’m so intrigued by brief psychotic episodes — their no known cause and duration, that’s so interesting. Do you know of any effective treatments for psychotic episodes?
For me personally it was cutting out anything that would trigger it, like caffeine and using graded exposure to tackle my anxieties which was the other trigger. In general, I guess it would depend on the course of the psychosis. Unless you have something like schizophrenia whereby medication is the primary method to treat it, for other forms I’m of it I’m not really sure. I’d imagine different causes of it would require different methods to deal with it, making it important to seek help as soon as you have such symptoms
Great article. My sister suffered from a psychotic break a couple of years back. I always wondered why. She was so strong. Thanks for the insight.
Sorry to hear about your sister, I hope she recovered. Do you have a blog? As one isn’t being displayed with your WordPress account
Psychotic break down and other mental illness is existing in our life but no one acknowledge or talks about it. Thanks for bringing such topics to light.
A better informed society is a more understanding one
This is very informative for many of us.
I suffer from anxiety but luckily have never had any psychotic episodes. My younger brother lives with autism and has associated anxiety, depression and has pshychotic episodes so I am somewhat familiiar with them. He struggles with them a lot. I need to educate myself more on how to help and support him more and learn more about them. I was very interested when I saw the title of your blog post because of that. It’s very well written and has given me a lot of information so thanks for that and thanks for sharing your story!
Sorry to hear about your anxiety, your bothers too, have you tried graded exposure? It works well with a lot of different types of anxieties. I have an article about it and a free downloadable workbook for it too, should you be interested.
Which is your brother’s health issues are the cause of his psychotic episodes?
I love how you have so much information in here in layman’s terms. Moreover, the Personal anecdotes give a real and tangible example of what you describe. Thank you!
I’m not a fan of over the top writing due to my dyslexia, as it can take a while to understand what’s written like that. Although at the same time I often worry I’m not explaining myself in an easy easy that’s understandable, so it’s good to know I am writing it in a way that is understandable to everyone
It is easy to understand. I have read other posts by you, as well, they have also been easy to understand.
For me, the difference between having psychosis and having psychotic episodes would be the frequency.
I love that you describe what an episode looks like; I have had a breakdown quite similar to a psychotic episode. After having a sensitive and unforgiving conversation around a triggering topic, I completely broke down. Like you, there was not much I could say . . .
Thanks so much for sharing your story and your thoughts on this!
Baising it on frequently would be a good way at separating the two terms for the disorder. Having a psychotic break is scary, as you’re so vulnerable in that state, and I’m sorry to hear you experienced that yourself. I hope that was your only brush with it
It has been so far. 🙂
Good good, hopefully it’ll stay that way
This post is really informative, I don’t know much about Psychotic episodes. Thank you so much for sharing your story as a bundle of information for everyone!
Thank you ☺️
Thank you for sharing your story and really eye opening information. I have a friend who is a nurse and she is often telling me how many people she treats that have cannabis related issues, many of them quite young
If I remember rightly, young people are at greater risk of developing issues from using cannabis while their brain is still developing, and you brain doesn’t mature until around 21
It is a very important that we should talk about our mental health issues and struggles. Most of the bus drivers, in countries like Nepal, India, Pakistan etc., are addicted to cannabis due to workload or other reasons; and most of the time their behaviour is strange and wary; sometimes they had been into deadly accidents. Now I understand why they are liked this after reading this article by a person who once struggled with this. Thanks for sharing your personal experience with us.
I had no ideas that was and issues in that region of the world, I would have thought stimulant drugs would have been used to help manage heavy workloads, so that’s interesting to know
Thank you for sharing your experiences. It’s so true that anyone can have a psychotic episode.
Thanks for reading ?
I love reading your articles – I always learn so much, and I love your writing style. Your articles are written in an easy to read and understand manner on some pretty heavy topics
Thank you ?
I never knew anything about this but your post is very informative. It’s hard not to have enough sleep but Im glad you doing ok.
I still don’t get enough sleep, but I get way more than I did back then
A very interesting and insightful post! Thanks for sharing your experience.
Thanks for reading
Thank you for sharing both your knowledge and your personal experience on this matter. Although we often hear these terms I suspect that few of us, myself included, really understood exactly what they meant. Keep up the good work.
It’s easy to be confused by terms you’ve never properly heard defined, especially if it becomes industry jargon
I have social anxiety disorder and my sister suffers from psychosis. These are the 2 reasons why I don’t want to try weed eventhough its been recommended to me for anxiety.
I wouldn’t recommend weed for anxiety, it can make you feel paranoid at the best of times. Some people say medical grade CBD oil can help, but I’ve not seen the most recent studies on that so I don’t know if the science backs up people’s personal stories about using it. But, medical grade CBD oil doesn’t have any of the active psychotropic chemicals in it, so it won’t behave like weed if you used it, so no risk of hallucinations or developing psychosis. Could be worth doing a Google Scholar search about it to see what the science says about CBD oil