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Psychotic Disorders

What is a psychotic disorder?

Psychotic disorders are mental disorders in which the personality is seriously disorganized and a person's contact with reality is impaired. During a psychotic episode a person is confused about reality and often experiences delusions and/or hallucinations.

The following is a brief description of some of the types of psychotic disorders:

  • Schizophrenia - psychotic symptoms which continue for at least six months coupled with the deterioration of occupational and social functioning
  • Schizoaffective Disorder - psychotic and mood disturbances.
  • Schizophreniform Disorder - same criteria as Schizophrenia but the episode lasts from 1 - 6 months and there is no deterioration of social status.
  • Brief Psychotic Disorder - psychotic symptoms that last between 1 and 30 days.

What characteristics are associated with psychotic disorder?

Some of the characteristics associated with psychotic disorders include delusions, hallucinations, bizarre behavior, incoherent or disorganized speech, and/or disorganized behavior.

Delusions are described as false, inaccurate beliefs the person holds onto even when he/she is presented with accurate information.

Examples of delusions include:

  • Grandiose delusion: This occurs when a person's belief about his/her own importance or station in life is grossly out of proportion to what is really true. For instance, a person might believe that he/she is Jesus Christ.
  • Persecutory delusion: This occurs when a person believes that there is a conspiracy to harass, punish, or attack him/her. The person also might believe that the group to which he/she belongs is being harassed or punished.

Hallucinations are internal sensory perceptions, such as sights or sounds, that are not actually present.

Common hallucinations include:

  • Visual hallucinations: People who have visual hallucinations see the image of something that is not real, such as another person.
  • Auditory hallucinations: People who have auditory hallucinations hear something that is not really present, such as someone's voice. Are there genetic factors associated with psychotic disorder?Some psychotic disorders, like schizophrenia, tend to run in families. If someone has a psychotic disorder, it is quite likely that another member of his/her immediate or extended family also has had a psychotic disorder.

Do psychotic disorders affect males, females, or both?

Most psychotic disorders tend to affect males and females in equal numbers.

At what age do psychotic disorders appear?

Generally, the first signs of most psychotic disorders appear when a person is in his/her late teens, twenties, or thirties.

How common are psychotic disorders in society?

Psychotic disorders are actually quite common worldwide. About one percent (1%) of the population is thought to have some form of psychotic disorder.

How is a psychotic disorder diagnosed?

A mental health professional arrives at the diagnosis of a psychotic disorder by conducting a mental status examination and by taking a very careful personal history from the patient/client. It is very important not to overlook a physical illness that might mimic or contribute to a psychological disorder. If there is any doubt about a medical problem, the mental health professional should refer to a physician, who will perform a complete physical examination and request any necessary laboratory tests.

Frequently, people with psychotic disorders are brought involuntarily for evaluation and treatment.

How is a psychotic disorder treated?

In the acute stage, a person with a psychotic disorder is treated with medication. The medications are called antipsychotics, and they are used to help organize the person's thinking and, therefore, his/her behavior. Examples of such medications are Clozaril (clozapine), Haldol (haloperidol), Risperdal (risperidone), and Zyprexa (olanzapine). Many types of psychotherapy, including individual, group, and family therapy, may be used at some point in the illness to help support the person suffering from a psychotic disorder. Although some patients with psychotic disorders can be treated as outpatients, acutely disorganized people with psychoses frequently need hospitalization in order to be stabilized.

What happens to someone with a psychotic disorder?

The course of psychotic disorders varies greatly from a few days to many years.

What can people do if they need help?

If you, a friend, or a family member would like more information and you have a therapist or a physician, please discuss your concerns with that person.

Reviewed by athealth on February 6, 2014.