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A psychotic break occurs when an individual experiences symptoms of psychosis, either for the first time or after a long period without symptoms. This can be precipitated by drug use, a major life change such as the death of a close family member or friend, or a previously diagnosed or undiagnosed mental illness, which frequently has genetic or biological factors as well. A psychotic break does not always appear the same in each person experiencing them, but it is characterized by an inability to distinguish reality. Individuals frequently suffer from delusions or hallucinations, which can potentially lead to violence. Others will experience major depressive episodes.
Generally, the psychotic episodes associated with a psychotic break do not last long, particularly if proper treatment from physicians and mental health professionals is sought. Though these episodes can be associated with schizophrenia, this is not necessarily the case, and doctors will be able to determine if the psychosis is indicative of schizophrenia, or if it is simply an individual episode. It is very important to seek medical attention as soon as possible for mental health issues like this, to ensure they do not progress and become worse, or start occurring more frequently.
Substance abuse is one of the most common causes of a psychotic break. It can occur while drugs or alcohol are still being used, or it can occur after substance use has stopped, as part of withdrawal symptoms. Significant life changes can also cause psychosis in an individual who might be more genetically prone to it, or who has been experiencing extremely high levels of stress, anxiety, or depression. For instance, a death of a close family member can lead to a psychotic break, as can the sudden loss of a job, or a breakup with a partner. In addition, individuals who suffer from a mental illness such as severe depression or bipolar disorder might be more prone to experiencing this as well.
The symptoms of a psychotic break can vary. Some people might become aggressive and violent, while others will become extremely withdrawn or even suicidal, as in a major depressive episode. Some people might experience manic episodes where they feel as if they have an impossibly high amount of energy. An individual will frequently experience delusions or hallucinations that are impossible for him or her to separate from what is really happening, and may also not be able to communicate very well. These hallucinations may be visual, auditory, or both. Recognizing symptoms that seem out of the ordinary is important to identifying a psychotic break.