Breaking down the prejudice and misconceptions around psychosis, and uncovering the truth behind this condition
People with psychosis often say that the prejudice against psychosis is worse than the condition itself. Whether it’s being dumped by a new beau, or getting fired from a job, the stigma around psychosis, and those with it, is rife.
In the literal sense, psychosis means ‘out of touch with reality’, and episodes aren’t usually constant. People might find they can tread water and lead happy, fulfilling lives, and yet still have ‘blips’ of psychosis that all-too-often mark out characters like an ink-blot on paper.
But with treatment (medications, and sometimes talking therapies) people with psychosis aren’t to be feared. We are just everyday people, trying our hardest to fit into the world around us. Many people with psychosis have jobs, families, homes, and pets.
Psychosis is a part of my schizo-affective disorder, and I’ve experienced episodes of psychosis three times over several months, during the course of two decades. I can still manage to work part-time as a journalist and guest lecturer, with my own home, and I’m mum to two adorable cats.
Psychosis isn’t something that’s held me back in my life, and I have a clean Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) record. But other people’s views and fears of psychosis persist. Here are eight common myths that I still battle with every day.
1. People with psychosis are dangerous or evil
Whether it’s a thriller titled Psycho, or Batman’s jibe to the Joker in The Dark Knight Rises (he says: “You’re just a schizophrenic clown”), there’s a myth perpetuated by Hollywood that people with psychosis are evil, axe-welding maniacs. But despite fears, we now know people with psychosis are more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators, and only a tiny minority who experience severe hallucinations and delusional beliefs will go on to act on them, and occasionally cause harm to themselves or others.
2. It means you have multiple personalities
There’s a really unhelpful myth that people with psychosis are like Jekyll and Hyde – psychosis meaning ‘out of touch with reality’ has caused a lot of confusion. People with psychosis do sometimes experience delusions and hallucinations, but they do not have multiple personalities. That condition is known as dissociative identity disorder.
3. People with psychosis are all the same
Psychosis isn’t a one-size-fits-all illness. Many people experiencing psychosis will see visions or hear voices that others don’t. However this isn’t the case for everybody. Some people with psychosis, like myself, only experience ‘delusions’ – mine is that I’m Britain’s most wanted criminal. Other people with psychosis will have tactile hallucinations, such as the feeling that insects are crawling over them. However the symptoms present themselves, they are very often terrifying for the person with them, and very hard to live with.
4. People with psychosis look dishevelled
I’ve lost track of the amount of people who’ve met me in person and commented: “You don’t look like someone with psychosis.” Yes, during a crisis, self-care can be neglected, and I may be too anxious to wash my hair or put on makeup. But crises are rare once stable on medication, and for the bulk of time I can attend meetings or appointments with washed hair, clean clothes, and sometimes even makeup, too.
We are just everyday people, trying our hardest to fit into the world around us
5. People with psychosis need to be locked away
Even when I’m in crisis, I can usually manage to live by myself, and will only see my GP or psychiatrist for a check-up about once a week to monitor my medication and mental health. Hospital stays tend to be reserved for more acute episodes, often after a suicide attempt and when the patient lacks awareness (known in psychiatry as ‘insight’). There are psychiatric assessment teams in A&E who can determine whether a stay in a mental hospital is needed.
While I’ve lived with psychosis for two decades now, I’ve only ever needed to be in hospital for one week, before stabilising on medication and then being discharged.
6. Psychosis is caused by drug use
While psychosis can be induced by taking drugs, this certainly isn’t always the case. Nobody knows exactly what the causes of psychosis are, but it is likely to be due to both environmental and genetic factors, including stress, childhood adversity, brain chemistry, genetics, birth complications, or even harmful relationships.
7. There is no treatment for psychosis
Antipsychotic medication is the mainstay treatment for psychosis and, once the right one is found, it can help many people to feel better, and dampen the delusions or hallucinations. Once out of a crisis and stable on medication, people can also find talking therapies help – to get people to understand more about their condition, why they have it, and how they can prevent it by identifying ‘early warning signs’.
8. People with psychosis can’t recover
In the two decades I’ve lived with psychosis, I’ve lost a job and a handful of close relationships due to stigma around my condition. However I’ve gone on to gain two degrees, in journalism and fine art. I’ve also been published in The New York Times and written my debut book. My personal life has also spiralled upwards too, having recently bought myself a little white cottage, and adopted two loving tomcats – Caspar and Winter.
Although we all need help and support to get through the more difficult times, people who have experienced psychosis can go on to live full, happy, and truly rewarding lives.
For more information on support for psychosis visit counselling-directory.org.uk