The brain is a funny thing. For the most part, we take it for granted. It’s there, sits at the top of our body, inside our head. We are told it makes us “tick;” it makes us “work right.” But, just like any other organ in our body, our brain can get sick. Sometimes this is called an illness of the mind or mental illness. When it does get sick, like any illness, it requires medical attention, therapy and care. This is very important because if our brain is sick, it can affect everything we do.
What Is Psychosis?
Psychosis is an experience that is the result of our brain not working right, often because it is ill. Usually our brain allows us to perceive things: smell, taste, touch, sound and sight. The brain allows us then to have thoughts about what we perceive and determines how we react. Psychosis is when this whole process gets messed up, sometimes very messed up. When affected by an illness that causes psychosis, the mind gets confused and creates an experience that is not accurate or that doesn’t make sense. That is, it doesn’t match what is really happening. For example, hearing sounds such as your name called in the school hallway when no one is there. This kind of experience can happen to anyone, and does. Actually, about eight per cent of people have experiences like that. Usually we shake it off, laugh or ignore it. However, for the one per cent of people who experience psychosis as an illness, it can become frequent and so strong that it becomes hard to ignore. After awhile, one begins to believe that someone is actually talking to them. This can be very confusing. Young people with psychosis often describe feeling as if their mind is playing tricks on them. Sometimes they describe also seeing things that aren’t actually there. Others report having thoughts that do not seem real or thoughts that no one else shares with them. Some young people have described psychosis as affecting their ability to trust others or appreciate things they used to love such as music, the internet or their cell phones. Psychosis can also change how we think. Sometimes thoughts come too fast, as if they are spiralling out of control; or too slow. Some people with psychosis find it way harder to pay attention in school or at work. Sleeping can be difficult. Many say they can’t remember things the way they used to. Psychosis can also make one feel sad, angry or confused because of how thoughts have changed; they just want to feel better.
If you think any of the above information sounds familiar to you, if you’ve wondered about your brain/mind in this way at all or if you have seen these signs in a friend or family member, it might be worth talking to someone about it. For most people, having an occasional odd experience is normal. However, for some, the experience is distressing and it is worth asking for help.
How can I get help?
Even if it means talking to someone about the experiences or just going for an assessment, early identification can make all the difference because psychosis is treatable. The earlier it is identified and treatment starts, the better the outcomes. Many who seek help are able to return to their lives before psychosis started. There are people available to listen to your concerns and programs available that specialize in psychosis:
- Youth Psychosis Team through the IWK Mental Health and Addictions Program
- Nova Scotia Early Psychosis Program through the IWK Mental Health and Addictions Program
- The Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia