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Charles Nekrasov
Charles Nekrasov

Psychosis as a Symptom of Schizophrenia: What You Need to Know

Clearing up Confusion about Schizophrenia vs Psychosis

Psychosis and schizophrenia are two terms that often cause confusion among people. Many people think that they are the same thing, or that one is a subtype of the other. However, this is not the case. Psychosis and schizophrenia are different concepts that have different meanings and implications. In this article, we will explain what psychosis and schizophrenia are, how they are related, what causes them, how they are diagnosed and treated, and how to cope with them. By the end of this article, you will have a clearer understanding of these complex mental health conditions and how to support yourself or someone you care about.

Clearing up Confusion about Schizophrenia vs Psychosis


Psychosis and schizophrenia are both mental health conditions that affect how a person perceives reality, thinks, feels, and behaves. They can cause significant distress and impairment in various aspects of life, such as work, education, relationships, and self-care. However, they are not the same thing. Psychosis is a symptom, while schizophrenia is a disorder. Let's look at what these terms mean in more detail.

What is psychosis?

Psychosis is a general term that describes a state of mind in which a person loses contact with reality. This means that they experience things that are not there (hallucinations) or believe things that are not true (delusions). For example, a person with psychosis may hear voices that no one else can hear, or think that someone is trying to harm them when there is no evidence for it. Psychosis can also affect other aspects of thinking, such as memory, concentration, logic, and judgment.

Psychosis can occur for various reasons, such as physical illness, brain injury, drug use, or extreme stress. It can also be a symptom of several mental disorders, such as bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or schizophrenia. Psychosis can be acute (short-term) or chronic (long-term), depending on the cause and treatment.

What is schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia is a specific mental disorder that affects how a person thinks, feels, and behaves. It is characterized by persistent and recurrent episodes of psychosis, as well as other symptoms that affect cognition (thinking skills), affect (emotions), and behavior. Schizophrenia is not a split personality or a multiple personality disorder. It is also not caused by bad parenting or personal weakness.

Schizophrenia is a complex and heterogeneous disorder, meaning that it can vary widely from person to person in terms of symptoms, severity, course, and outcome. There is no single cause or cure for schizophrenia. However, there are effective treatments and strategies that can help people with schizophrenia manage their condition and live fulfilling lives.

How are psychosis and schizophrenia related?

Psychosis and schizophrenia are related in the sense that psychosis is one of the main features of schizophrenia. However, not all people who experience psychosis have schizophrenia, and not all people who have schizophrenia experience psychosis. Psychosis can occur in many other conditions besides schizophrenia, and schizophrenia can involve many other symptoms besides psychosis. Therefore, it is important to distinguish between psychosis and schizophrenia and not use them interchangeably.

Causes and risk factors of psychosis and schizophrenia

The exact causes of psychosis and schizophrenia are not fully understood. However, research suggests that they are influenced by a combination of biological and environmental factors that interact in complex ways. Some of the most common factors are:

Biological factors


Psychosis and schizophrenia tend to run in families, which means that they have a genetic component. However, there is no single gene or set of genes that causes them. Rather, there are multiple genes that may increase or decrease the risk of developing them, depending on how they interact with each other and with environmental factors. Having a family history of psychosis or schizophrenia does not mean that a person will definitely develop them, but it does mean that they have a higher chance than someone who does not.

Brain structure and function

Psychosis and schizophrenia are also associated with changes in the structure and function of the brain, especially in areas that are involved in perception, cognition, emotion, and behavior. These changes may be caused by genetic factors, prenatal factors (such as infections or malnutrition during pregnancy), perinatal factors (such as complications during birth), or postnatal factors (such as head injuries or infections). These changes may affect how the brain processes information, regulates neurotransmitters (chemical messengers), and responds to stress.

Environmental factors

Stress and trauma

Stress and trauma are common triggers of psychosis and schizophrenia. Stress can be any situation that challenges or overwhelms a person's ability to cope, such as life events, relationships, work, school, or health problems. Trauma can be any experience that is emotionally or physically harmful or threatening, such as abuse, violence, accidents, disasters, or war. Stress and trauma can affect the brain's development, functioning, and resilience, as well as the person's sense of self, safety, and trust. They can also activate or worsen genetic vulnerabilities to psychosis or schizophrenia.

Substance use

Substance use can also induce or exacerbate psychosis and schizophrenia. Some substances, such as cannabis, cocaine, amphetamines, hallucinogens, or alcohol, can directly cause psychotic symptoms or interfere with the effects of medication. Other substances, such as nicotine or caffeine, can indirectly increase the risk of psychosis or schizophrenia by affecting the brain's chemistry or increasing stress levels. Substance use can also be a coping mechanism for people who experience psychosis or schizophrenia, but it can worsen their condition in the long run.

Symptoms and diagnosis of psychosis and schizophrenia

The symptoms of psychosis and schizophrenia can vary from person to person in terms of type, frequency, intensity, and duration. However, some of the most common symptoms are:

Psychosis symptoms

Positive symptoms

Positive symptoms are those that add something to the person's experience of reality, such as hallucinations or delusions. Hallucinations are sensory perceptions that occur without any external stimulus, such as hearing voices, seeing visions, feeling sensations, smelling odors, or tasting flavors that are not there. Delusions are fixed false beliefs that are not based on reality or evidence, such as thinking that one is being followed, controlled, spied on, persecuted, or possessed by someone or something.

Negative symptoms

Negative symptoms are those that take something away from the person's experience of reality, such as apathy or anhedonia. Apathy is a lack of interest or motivation in doing anything, even things that used to be enjoyable or meaningful. Anhedonia is a loss of pleasure or satisfaction from anything, even things that used to be rewarding or fulfilling. Other negative symptoms include social withdrawal (avoiding contact with others), blunted affect (showing little or no emotion), alogia (speaking very little or not at all), and avolition (having difficulty initiating or completing tasks).

Schizophrenia symptoms

Cognitive symptoms

Cognitive symptoms are those that affect the person's thinking skills, such as memory, concentration, attention, logic, reasoning, planning, organization, and problem-solving. Cognitive symptoms can make it hard for the person to learn, understand, communicate, and function effectively in daily life.

Affective symptoms

Affective symptoms are those that affect the person's emotions, such as depression, anxiety, irritability, anger, guilt, shame, Diagnosis criteria and process

To diagnose psychosis or schizophrenia, a mental health professional will conduct a comprehensive assessment that includes a medical history, a physical examination, a mental status examination, and possibly some laboratory tests or imaging scans. The purpose of the assessment is to rule out any other possible causes of the symptoms, such as physical illness, substance use, or other mental disorders.

For psychosis, there is no specific diagnostic test or criteria. The diagnosis is based on the presence and severity of psychotic symptoms, as well as their impact on the person's functioning and quality of life. Psychosis can be classified as primary (caused by a mental disorder) or secondary (caused by another condition). It can also be classified as affective (related to mood disorders) or non-affective (not related to mood disorders).

For schizophrenia, there are specific diagnostic criteria that are based on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), which is the standard reference for mental health professionals. According to the DSM-5, the diagnosis of schizophrenia requires at least two of the following symptoms for at least six months, with at least one of them being a positive symptom:

  • Delusions

  • Hallucinations

  • Disorganized speech

  • Disorganized or catatonic behavior

  • Negative symptoms

In addition, the symptoms must cause significant impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning, and they must not be better explained by another mental disorder, substance use, or medical condition.

Treatment and recovery of psychosis and schizophrenia

Psychosis and schizophrenia are treatable conditions that can be managed with a combination of medication, psychotherapy, and psychosocial interventions. The goals of treatment are to reduce or eliminate the symptoms, prevent relapse or recurrence, improve functioning and quality of life, and promote recovery and well-being. The treatment plan should be tailored to the individual's needs, preferences, and goals, and should involve collaboration among the person, their family or caregivers, and their mental health team.


Medication is often the first-line treatment for psychosis and schizophrenia. The main type of medication used is antipsychotics, which work by affecting the brain's neurotransmitters and reducing the positive symptoms. There are two types of antipsychotics: first-generation (older) and second-generation (newer). Both types have similar effectiveness, but they differ in their side effects and costs. Some of the common side effects of antipsychotics include weight gain, sedation, movement disorders, metabolic problems, and cardiovascular problems. Therefore, it is important to monitor the person's physical health and medication adherence regularly.

Other types of medication that may be used in conjunction with antipsychotics include antidepressants (for depression or anxiety), mood stabilizers (for bipolar disorder), or benzodiazepines (for agitation or insomnia). The choice and dosage of medication depend on the person's symptoms, medical history, response to treatment, and potential interactions with other drugs.


Psychotherapy is a form of psychological intervention that involves talking with a trained therapist about one's thoughts, feelings, experiences, and behaviors. Psychotherapy can help the person understand their condition, cope with their symptoms, challenge their distorted beliefs, enhance their self-esteem, improve their communication and social skills, and develop their personal goals and values. There are different types of psychotherapy that can be effective for psychosis and schizophrenia, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), family therapy, or supportive therapy.

Psychosocial interventions

Psychosocial interventions are non-medical interventions that aim to improve the person's functioning and quality of life in various domains, such as education, employment, housing, leisure, and relationships. Psychosocial interventions can include case management, vocational rehabilitation, social skills training, peer support groups, or community-based programs. These interventions can help the person access resources, build social networks, learn new skills, increase their independence, and integrate into society.


Psychosis and schizophrenia are complex mental health conditions that affect how a person perceives reality, thinks, feels, and behaves. They are not the same thing; psychosis is a symptom, while schizophrenia is a disorder. They are caused by a combination of biological and environmental factors that interact in complex ways. They are diagnosed by a mental health professional based on the presence and severity of symptoms, as well as their impact on functioning and quality of life. They are treated with a combination of medication, psychotherapy, and psychosocial interventions that aim to reduce or eliminate the symptoms, prevent relapse or recurrence, improve functioning and quality of life, and promote recovery and well-being.

Psychosis and schizophrenia can be challenging and distressing for the person and their loved ones, but they are not hopeless or incurable. With proper treatment and support, many people with psychosis or schizophrenia can manage their condition and live fulfilling lives.


Here are some frequently asked questions about psychosis and schizophrenia:

  • Q: Can psychosis or schizophrenia be cured?

  • A: There is no cure for psychosis or schizophrenia, but they can be treated and managed with medication, psychotherapy, and psychosocial interventions. Many people with psychosis or schizophrenia can achieve remission (no or minimal symptoms) or recovery (optimal functioning and well-being) with proper treatment and support.

  • Q: Can psychosis or schizophrenia be prevented?

  • A: There is no definitive way to prevent psychosis or schizophrenia, but there are some strategies that may reduce the risk or delay the onset of them, such as avoiding substance use, seeking help for stress or trauma, maintaining physical and mental health, and participating in early intervention programs if signs of psychosis or schizophrenia emerge.

  • Q: How common are psychosis and schizophrenia?

  • A: Psychosis and schizophrenia are relatively common mental health conditions. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), about 3.5% of the global population experiences psychosis at some point in their lives, and about 0.7% of the global population has schizophrenia.

  • Q: How can I help someone with psychosis or schizophrenia?

A: If you know someone who has psychosis or schizophrenia, you can help them by:

  • Being supportive, empathetic, and respectful

  • Encouraging them to seek professional help and follow their treatment plan

  • Providing practical assistance, such as transportation, reminders, or accompaniment

  • Educating yourself and others about their condition and challenging stigma and discrimination

  • Taking care of your own physical and mental health and seeking support when needed

  • Q: Where can I find more information or resources about psychosis or schizophrenia?

A: There are many online sources that provide reliable and up-to-date information or resources about psychosis or schizophrenia, such as:

  • The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)

  • The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)

  • The Schizophrenia and Related Disorders Alliance of America (SARDAA)

  • The World Health Organization (WHO)



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