Psychosis overview

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Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [1]


Psychosis is a generic psychiatric term for a mental state often described as involving a "loss of contact with reality". Stedman's Medical Dictionary defines psychosis as "a severe mental disorder, with or without organic damage, characterized by derangement of personality and loss of contact with reality and causing deterioration of normal social functioning."[1]

People experiencing a psychotic episode may report hallucinations or delusional beliefs (e.g., grandiose or paranoid delusions), and may exhibit personality changes and disorganized thinking. This is often accompanied by lack of insight into the unusual or bizarre nature of their behaviour, as well as difficulty with social interaction and impairment in carrying out the activities of daily living.

A wide variety of nervous system stressors, both organic and functional, can cause a psychotic reaction. This has led to the belief that psychosis is the 'fever' of mental illness—a serious but nonspecific indicator.[2][3]

However, most people have unusual and reality-distorting experiences at some point in their lives, without being impaired or even distressed by these experiences. For example, many people have experienced visions of some kind, and some have even found inspiration or religious revelation in them.[4] As a result, it has been argued that psychosis is not fundamentally separate from normal consciousness, but rather, is on a continuum with normal consciousness.[5] In this view, people who are clinically found to be psychotic, may simply be having particularly intense or distressing experiences (see schizotypy).

In pop culture, the term "psychotic" is often used incorrectly to refer to psychopathy.


  1. The American Heritage Stedman's Medical Dictionary. "KMLE Medical Dictionary Definition of psychosis".
  2. Tsuang, Ming T. (2000). "Toward Reformulating the Diagnosis of Schizophrenia". American Journal of Psychiatry. 157 (7): 1041–1050. PMID 10873908. Retrieved 2006-08-19. Unknown parameter |month= ignored (help); Unknown parameter |coauthors= ignored (help)
  3. DeLage, J. (1955). "[Moderate psychosis caused by mumps in a child of nine years.]". Laval Médical. 20 (2): 175–183. PMID 14382616. Unknown parameter |month= ignored (help)
  4. Dick, P.K. (1981) VALIS. London: Gollancz. ISBN 0-679-73446-5
  5. Johns, Louise C. (2001). "The continuity of psychotic experiences in the general population". Clinical Psychology Review. PubMed. 21 (8): 1125–41. doi:10.1016/S0272-7358(01)00103-9. PMID 11702510. Retrieved 2006-08-19. Unknown parameter |coauthors= ignored (help)

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