Psychotic epidemic: definition, causes, symptoms and treatment

“Psychotic epidemic” is one of those terms belonging to the world of psychiatry and clinical psychology which have passed into popular culture but at the same time have done so with a slightly distorted definition: few people without regulated training in the field of mental health are clarifying this concept.

Therefore, throughout this article we will see what a psychotic epidemic is, Its characteristics and the type of pathologies in which it appears.

    What is a psychotic epidemic?

    the psychotic disorders they are serious mental illnesses in which the person loses touch with reality. One of the characteristic symptoms of this type of psychopathology is the appearance of psychotic outbreaks, A concept that we will explore throughout this article.

    A psychotic epidemic is a temporary break with reality, And during this period, the person who suffers from it does not distinguish whether what is happening to him is real or fictitious. Images or thoughts appear in your mind as if everything is genuine. They may think that everyone is against him and want to be done with him or, on the other hand, they may hear voices telling him to kill himself.

    The psychotic epidemic should be treated with medication and psychological help should be sought as soon as possible.

    Who can suffer?

    But … what causes a psychotic epidemic? There seems to be a certain genetic predisposition to suffer from it, Which, combined with environmental factors, can trigger the presence of psychotic epidemics. In conditions such as schizophrenia or paranoid disorder, it is possible that, if the patient is not medicated, several psychotic flares appear throughout his life.

    This break with reality can happen for different reasons, and not just with these two psychotic disorders. Some patients with bipolar disorder or borderline personality disorder may also experience a psychotic flare. In some cases, even people who have never had a psychotic outbreak may suffer from a single outbreak after a very stressful emotional situation or following the use of drugs such as marijuana or hallucinogens.

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    In the case of patients with psychotic disorders, drugs become necessary to prevent these episodes. But in general, it is difficult to anticipate and prevent it. It is common for family members themselves to seek help when the same psychotic outbreak is present, and patients are usually admitted temporarily until symptoms subside.

    however, certain signs may indicate this type of behavior:

    • The individual shows behavior of social isolation, And you can stop going to work or school
    • Changes in dress code and habits, As well as monitoring of appearance and hygiene.
    • The person shows disorganized behavior, Unusual, seemingly meaningless, rare and extravagant.
    • He presents strange ideas which do not seem to have anything to do with reality. Even if you don’t share these thoughts with everyone, you may be able to share them with people close to you.

    Difference between delusions and hallucinations

    The delusions and hallucinations, both present in the psychotic epidemic, are not the same and are not expressed in the same way.. The former usually manifest as a delusional or paranoid disorder, while the latter are typical of schizophrenia.

    But what exactly sets them apart? Illusions are false beliefs. That is, mistaken beliefs of reality about an existing fact or object. They are, in other words, a distortion of an external stimulus that is present. For example, when a person suffers from delirium, they may walk through a shopping mall and believe that people walking through are spying on them and then give the information to the police.

    On another side, hallucinations are false perceptions, such as hearing, seeing, or feeling something that does not actually exist. Patients with this disease actually hear or see things, but these objects or voices are not really there, they are inventions of the mind. For example, a person with hallucinations may think that they are talking to you through the outlets in their home.

      What is the difference with dissociative episodes?

      The cases of dissociation are phenomena which can recall psychotic outbreaks. These are mental alterations in which the person experiences reality in a way that is dissociated from reality, in a way similar to that which occurs in psychosis. Usually, however, in these cases, it is not considered that hallucinations occur, but an emotionally discordant reaction to perceived or memorized information, and which often clashes with the identity of the person.

      For example, in unrealization, the person has the impression that everything around him is a lie, a setting without too much value beyond appearances. And there are also dissociative phenomena in which the faces of loved ones do not produce an emotional response of affection towards the person.


      When a person suffers from a psychotic epidemic, they need immediate treatment. Since this is a serious disorder, the patient is usually admitted so that he can receive the appropriate pharmacological and psychological treatment. The administration of antipsychotics (for example, haloperidol or olanzapine) is necessary to stabilize the patient, but psychological support is also essential, as it not only helps patients, but also helps them. with this situation. Psychotherapy is useful in providing information, tools and support in these cases.

      In some cases (for example, substance-induced psychotic disorder), the patient no longer suffers from psychotic epidemics in his life. In other cases, such as schizophrenia, psychotic flare-ups can recur with some frequency. It is very important to clarify that the psychotic epidemic and schizophrenia are not the same. Although the two terms can sometimes be confused and used interchangeably, schizophrenia is a type of psychotic disorder of long duration, while a psychotic outbreak is an acute manifestation of short duration. The psychotic epidemic is considered a positive symptom of schizophrenia.

      Bibliographical references:

        1. American Psychiatric Association (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: DSM-5. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association.
        1. Leucht, S., Arbter, D., Engel, RR, Kissling, W., Davis, JM (2009). How effective are second generation antipsychotics? A meta-analysis of placebo-controlled trials. Molecular psychiatry. 14 (4): 429-447.
        1. Sims, A. (2002). Symptoms in the Mind: An Introduction to Descriptive Psychopathology (3rd ed.). Edinburgh: Elsevier Science Ltd.
        1. Tsuang, MT, Stone, WS, Pharaon, SV (2000). Towards the reformulation of the diagnosis of schizophrenia. American Journal of Psychiatry 157 (7): 1041-1050.
        1. Williams, P. (2012). Rethinking Madness: Towards a Paradigm Shift in Our Understanding and Treatment of Psychosis. Sky’s Edge Edition.

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