What is Psychosis?

Psychosis has had its share of misconceptions. Thanks to the many inaccurate depictions of psychosis symptoms in the entertainment industry, its proliferation has misled public knowledge about what it is and what it is not. So I am here to offer some points of clarification that can hopefully improve public awareness about psychosis.

Psychosis is the collection of symptoms that affect the mind and impairs one's ability to determine whether their experiences are based on reality or not. Psychosis symptoms range from the general (e.g., mood changes, anxiety) to the severe (e.g., hallucinations). It exists within a continuum of the human experience--meaning that while some people can endorse symptoms associated with psychosis (e.g., seeing ghosts of deceased loved ones), it does not necessarily mean they are suffering from a psychotic disorder. 

The symptoms associated with psychosis are comprised of positive symptoms and negative symptoms. Positive symptoms are experiences that are considered to be an addition to everyday life. The following are examples of positive symptoms:

  1. Unusual thoughts/beliefs (e.g., delusions)
  2. Suspiciousness or increased worry about surroundings (e.g., paranoia)
  3. Grandiose ideas
  4. Perceptual disturbances (e.g., visual, auditory, somatic; hallucinations)
  5. Disorganized communication (e.g., word salad; difficulty with goal-directed communication)

Of course, these are probably what most people are familiar with when they think about psychosis. In contrast, the negative symptoms of psychosis are much less known but arguably are just as important. The following are examples of negative symptoms:

  1. Social anhedonia
  2. Avolition
  3. Decreased emotional expression
  4. Decreased experience of emotions and self
  5. Impaired ideational richness
  6. Declined occupational/academic functioning

Why is this important to understand? Because the more people know about the early signs and symptoms, the better it is for treatment and recovery.

Research has shown that while the positive symptoms are typically what perks up our ears and alerts us to abnormal functioning, the negative symptoms are usually what is first noticed by family and friends who are close to the individual experiencing early psychosis. And it is worth noting that at this stage, the negative symptoms tend to look benign and/or resemble symptoms associated with other clinical disorders, such as depression, anxiety, or trauma. This is why early intervention is key. 

Treatment for early psychosis is available, possible, and effective. In order to receive appropriate treatment, a full psychological assessment is key. With a full assessment of one's current clinical symptoms, intellectual functioning, and level of impairment, the duration of untreated psychosis can be reduced and thereby increasing the capacity to preserve one's premorbid functioning prior to symptom onset. 



Why do I work with the early psychosis population?

I can't fully explain it, but I can try. After my first clinical experience working with youth and young adults with serious mental illness, I decided that this was my life's true calling. I became inspired to continue the efforts of learning more about psychosis because of the variety of individuals I have worked with. More often than not, I came across the most intellectually gifted, thoughtful, accomplished, and creative individuals. However, it was distressing to see that their recent onset of psychosis symptoms proved to be threat and barrier preventing them from leading fulfilling and meaningful lives. And so, this experience has emboldened me to devote my clinical work with youth and young adults who are currently struggling with such difficult symptoms at a pivotal time in their life.


If you or someone you know is interested in doing a psychological assessment for symptoms such as recent changes in mood, unusual thoughts, and feelings related to one's surroundings/experiences, please feel free to contact me and schedule an appointment. I'd be more than happy to help!



Dr. Danessa Mayo, Ph.D.