Crazy really isn’t a good word to describe what you might be experiencing. If you are hearing voices or don’t feel in touch with reality, it may be that a medical condition is affecting your brain, and you are experiencing psychosis. So in the same way that you might have a health condition in your heart (like heart disease) or a condition affecting your pancreas (like diabetes), you may be experiencing psychosis and if so, it’s treatable.

Sometimes the brain takes in too much information from the world all at once. All of this information coming in at once can make a person feel very overwhelmed, like the world is buzzing around too fast. Feeling overwhelmed by daily life is often one of the first clues to look for if you are worried you are “going crazy”.

Our brain usually does a great job of telling us the difference between the things that are real, the things that are dreams that we have when we sleep, and the things that are parts of our imagination or ideas about the future. But in psychosis, things get mixed up, and the brain has a hard time seeing the differences between what’ss “real”, what’s a “dream”, and what’s “fantasy”. For some reason, the brain that is experiencing psychosis sees and feels (and can hear, smell, and taste) all of these things as if they were real, and the brain tells the body to act accordingly. People who are having a psychotic event can be very convinced that the mixed-up information their brain is giving them is real and occurring, even when it is clear to others that it is not.

*The good news is that psychosis is a condition that can be treated.

3% of the population will experience psychosis during their lifetime. If you live in a town with about 25,000 people, about 750 will experience psychosis at some time in their life. But psychosis can be caused by different things. You know that period of time just before you wake up, or just before you fall asleep? You can experience hallucinations, or seeing things that aren’t really there during these times. This is quite normal. You can experience psychosis when you are sleep deprived. Or maybe a person has just had an operation and the doctor has given them medication. Some of these might cause a person to hallucinate; not always, but sometimes.

More than any other age group, people between the ages of 16 and 35 can experience psychosis due to a medical brain disorder. And it doesn’t matter if you’re a guy or a girl, psychosis will affect both genders equally. It also doesn’t matter what race or culture you belong to, if you’re rich or poor or what religion you are. But the good news is that the earlier it’s treated, the better the outcome.

It’s important to ask: What is “normal?” Does “normal” look like something? Do “normal” people do or say any special things? If you had to pick the most “normal” person in a room, who would that be? Why is that person the most “normal?” Is there anything that might make that person “not normal?”

The more you explore the idea of “normal” the more you will come to understand that normal is a word that describes things that some people often do, and not things that all people always do.

It’s likely that the more you think about the person or people who can be described as “normal” in your life and what they do or how they do it, the more you’ll notice that those people have all sorts of quirks and habits that make them somehow different from others. Really, it’s more “normal” to seem different and to feel different from others than it is to feel or look like you fit in 100% of the time.

Now, if we’re going to talk about “normal” as the things that people often do, there are some things that Canadian people do that are pretty common:

  • People often complete high school, not all people, but most of them
  • People often have a job, or want to have a job
  • People often want to have relationships, and often try to make them happen.

Are you interested in any of these things? If you say yes to even one of them, you’re a pretty “normal” person.

However, psychosis can interfere with how a person does these things, like finishing school, working, or developing relationships because the symptoms can disrupt the routine of everyday life. And so while most Canadians graduate from high school with their friends, for example, a person living with psychosis might find that schoolwork is a little more difficult, or that finishing school takes a little longer.

At first it can take a little longer to do things if a person has psychosis. Being slowed down by any health condition can make one feel left behind when they compare themselves to their friends. But over time, with patience and perseverance, and sometimes with a little help, life just starts to move forward again and it’s easier to catch up.

And just so everyone knows, most people feel like they’re being left behind at some point in their life. Feeling left behind, or out of the loop, is a pretty “normal” experience too!

If a person experiences these early warning signs, it does not mean that they are experiencing psychosis. These signs are just that – warning signs. They can include:

  • reduced concentration and attention
  • reduced drive and motivation
  • depression
  • anxiety
  • social withdrawal
  • irritability
  • mood swings
  • sleeping problems
  • changes in habits
  • suspiciousness
  • difficulty carrying out daily responsibilities

(For parents, this just sounds like typical teenage behaviour, right?)

If someone you know has some or all of these early warning signs, it does not mean they are going to develop psychosis. However, if the family has relatives that have a mental illness, or if the person is going through something extremely stressful, and on top of everything is smoking marijuana, it might be a good idea to keep an eye on what’s happening with this person. There are risk factors associated with whether or not a person will experience psychosis and genetics, stress and drug use are among those factors.

Psychosis is definitely treatable and many people who are treated early never have an episode again. The earlier you get treatment, the better the outcome. Treatment can include a number of things: medication, psychological interventions such as supportive therapy, or Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. Education about psychosis for the person experiencing psychosis and family/friends is very helpful to everyone. People experiencing psychosis can move into recovery fairly soon after treatment is started and recovery is all about getting better.

Many people do not like taking medication. Ask people who are prescribed antibiotics if they finish the whole prescription. Many don’t. But when it comes to psychosis, the best thing you can do is to continue to take the medication prescribed by your doctor. Don’t expect them to work immediately because they do take time to have an effect, sometimes up to 6 weeks. Remember that every person is unique and sometimes what works for one person may not work for another. Your doctor might have to try different medications until they find the best one for you. And know that you can’t become addicted to these medications, so don’t worry about that. Be patient, and know that your doctor only has your best interest in mind when he/she prescribes them. Medication will help to relieve the symptoms of psychosis.

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If you need help, information or would like to refer someone the first step is to ask for help. With early intervention and treatment, most people recover from a first episode of psychosis.

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