A psychotic episode is a period of psychosis that can last varying amounts of time. Some physicians distinguish between brief psychotic episodes lasting between one day and one month and longer periods of psychosis. This mental health condition can occur in conjunction with an existing condition like schizophrenia, or it may occur independently. A number of causes have been associated with psychosis, from extreme trauma to underlying variations in the chemical makeup of the brain that make some people more prone to psychosis.
People in an episode can experience one or more of the following: hallucinations, thought disorder, and delusions. Hallucinations are sensory experiences that are not grounded in reality, such as hearing, seeing, tasting, touching, or smelling things that are not present. Thought disorder involves disorganized thinking and speech and can express in the form of difficulty with spoken communication, confusion, memory loss, emotional volatility, and rapidly changing moods. Delusions are beliefs that people have difficulty differentiating from reality.
One of the key characteristics of the episode is that the patient experiences a break with reality. People have difficulty separating hallucinations and delusions, believing them to be real, and they may also reject aspects of the real world. This can be traumatic for the patient and can make it difficult for people to communicate with the patient or to provide assistance. Someone who genuinely believes that government agents are planning to attack, for example, may reject attempts at assistance, fearing enemy infiltration.
Psychotic episodes can be emotionally terrifying for the patient and expose people to the risk of suicide and self harm. Treatments include hospitalization to provide intensive inpatient treatment and monitoring, along with antipsychotic drugs and psychotherapy. If the psychotic episode occurs in connection with another psychiatric condition, treating that condition can assist with the management of the psychosis and help the patient make a recovery.
Once a patient recovers from a psychotic episode, the treatment regimen can be adjusted. In patients with a history of psychosis, the goal is to determine what triggered the event and to prevent it from happening again. This could include everything from taking medication for life to prevent chemical imbalances to receiving therapy for trauma to making adjustments to diet and exercise regimens. A psychiatrist usually needs to supervise care for the patient and the patient will need to check in periodically to confirm that the current course of treatment is still effective.