A psychotic episode may occur as the result of a mental illness or as a symptom of certain medical conditions. A person who is experiencing a psychotic episode puts himself and anyone around him in danger. Knowing the signs and symptoms and seeking appropriate professional assistance can help ensure the personal safety of everyone involved. The most common signs of an episode include hallucinations, delusions, paranoia, disorganized speech and disorganized or catatonic behavior.
Psychosis is characterized by a loss of connection to reality. During an episode, the sufferer is completely detached from reality and most often unaware of his actions. The specific symptoms that appear may be different from one person to another. Likewise, each episode could present itself in a different form. In any case, there is a noticeable and marked change in behavior, and it may come about suddenly and without warning.
Hallucinations occur when a person sees, hears, smells, tastes or feels things that are not there. Hallucinations may be mild or severe but the sufferer believes they are real when they are not. When hallucinations are present, a person might start talking and engaging in conversation with someone who is not there. The person's behavior may change to accommodate the hallucination.
Closely tied to hallucinations are delusions. While hallucinations affect the senses, delusions are false beliefs conjured up in the sufferer's mind. Delusions often lead to dangerous behavior that either harms the sufferer or another person.
The hallucinations and delusions that occur during a psychotic episode can increase paranoia and anxiety in the person experiencing them. When this happens, the person may feel threatened and lash out in an attempt to eliminate the object of the hallucinations or delusions. Violent behavior is likely to escalate if the person is confronted or questioned about his changing behavior, especially if he is unaware of it himself. Some episodes are more evident by the person’s speech and movements. The person might start mumbling incoherently or screaming at another person or at the air without an obvious reason.
A person having an episode may become physically disorganized, appearing unable to control body movements and normal walking patterns. Catatonic behavior, in which the person fixes in a set position and is completely unresponsive, is also common during episodes. The catatonic state may appear alone, before or after other more aggressive symptoms. Psychotic episodes require medical intervention and treatment. Anyone experiencing or in contact with someone experiencing a psychotic episode should contact local emergency services immediately.