Language is important and often shapes our societal impressions of a concept. I often hear the term “psychotic” thrown around in casual conversation to describe something that doesn’t make sense or someone who is irrationally cruel. This usage strays from the original intention of the word and creates unnecessary stigmatization of psychotic disorders. So how do scientists and psychiatrists define psychosis? Well, psychosis refers to a mental state that is disconnected from reality (Britannica, 2021). Psychosis can be central to a mental illness (as in schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder) or it can be a specifiable subset to a mental illness (as in dementia, depression, and bipolar disorder) (Chaudhury, 2010). Psychosis presents itself in two ways: Hallucinations and/or Delusions.
Hallucinations are sensory experiences in the absence of external stimuli. It is important to note that hallucinations can occur in ALL sensory modalities. This includes seeing, smelling, hearing, feeling, or tasting things that are not actually there. The types of hallucinations most commonly experienced are auditory and visual (Chaudhury, 2010; Teeple, Caplan, & Stern, 2019). Hallucinations are commonly seen in psychotic disorders and they are often accompanied by delusions.
Delusions are false beliefs based on incorrect assumptions made about oneself or external reality. An important characteristic of a delusion is that it remains fixed in the face of unfalsifiable evidence to the contrary (Lancellotta & Bortolotti, 2019). Delusions are often categorized as ordinary or bizarre. Ordinary delusions are false beliefs about things that “could conceivably occur in real life,” such as believing that you are being followed or that hackers have stolen your life savings (Tamminga, 2020). Bizarre delusions refer to false beliefs about things that are seemingly impossible, such as aliens coming down and replacing your hands with another person’s hands (Arciniegas, 2015).
As human-beings we often fear what we do not understand. It is important to remember that these fears are unfounded. In contrast to public sentiments, scientific research has consistently shown little to no increase in the occurrence of violence in the mentally ill community compared to the general community at large (Harvard Health Publishing, 2021; Stuart, 2003). Understanding psychotic disorders is key to reducing stigma and increasing access to meaningful care for those who are struggling.