Psychosis is the collective term for a group of symptoms that alter normal human consciousness and seriously weaken the ability to tell fantasy from reality. Many of the people affected by these symptoms have schizophrenia or some other form of mental disorder; however, psychosis may also stem from a number of other underlying sources. According to the results of new study published in July 2013 in the journal JAMA Psychiatry, the presence of psychotic symptoms steeply increases the chances that a teenager will make a suicide attempt.
What Does Psychosis Affect?
Psychosis triggers a loss of contact with reality by altering the brain’s normal sensory perception and thought processes. The sensory alterations associated with a psychotic state of mind typically involve sound-based hallucinations in the form of “voices,” touch-based hallucinations in the form of strange sensations on the skin, and/or vision-based hallucinations in the form of colors, lights or seemingly real physical objects. Altered thought processes in people with psychosis commonly manifest in the form of fixed beliefs called delusions, which only make sense to the affected individual. A person with psychosis may also experience problems thinking clearly or following a chain of thought without experiencing unusual pauses or unwanted disruptions.
Schizophrenia is the most prominent mental disorder associated with the presence of psychosis. Other mental illnesses known for their ability to trigger a psychotic mental state include schizoaffective disorder, bipolar disorder, major depression, brief psychotic disorder and schizophreniform disorder. People affected by alcohol use disorder (alcohol abuse or addiction) can also develop psychosis while under the influence of alcohol or while withdrawing from alcohol.
Additional potential causes of short- or long-term psychotic states of mind include use of drugs called hallucinogens, marijuana use, seizure disorders, strokes, Huntington’s disease, brain cancer, brain cysts, brain infections, Parkinson’s disease and the side effects of prescription stimulants and certain other medications.
Psychosis’ Impact On Suicide Risks
In the study published in JAMA Psychiatry, a multinational research team assessed a group of over 1,100 teenagers between the ages of 13 and 16 for general symptoms that may indicate the onset of mental illness, as well as for specific symptoms of psychosis. The researchers also established the frequency of suicide attempts among these teens. These evaluations were initially performed at the beginning of the study then repeated three months later and one year later.
At the three-month assessment, the study’s authors found that just 1 percent of the teens with no symptoms of psychosis had attempted to kill themselves. Conversely, 7 percent of the teens affected by psychosis had made a suicide attempt. At the 12-month assessment, the authors found that only 2.5 percent of the teens unaffected by psychosis had attempted suicide. Conversely, 20 percent of the teens with psychotic symptoms had tried to kill themselves. When teenagers had psychosis symptoms in combination with other signs of oncoming mental illness, their suicide attempt rates rose even more dramatically. Three months into the study, 14 percent of these teens had tried to kill themselves; one year into the study, 34 percent of these teens had made a suicide attempt.
All told, teenagers affected by psychosis attempt to kill themselves almost 70 times more often than teens free from psychosis. The authors of the study in JAMA Psychiatry believe that the presence of psychosis in an adolescent may function as a warning sign for the eventual development of other symptoms of mental illness unrelated to a psychotic state of mind.
They also believe that the presence of psychosis may be a warning sign that the affected individual will develop other problems that can drastically diminish his or her health. One of these problems is an increased risk for suicidal behavior. In addition, the authors of the study believe that their findings may help mental health professionals develop a testing procedure that officially identifies the presence of psychosis as a marker for clear suicide risks. In turn, such a procedure may significantly lower the chances that any given affected teen will make a suicide attempt.
The authors of the study in JAMA Psychiatry note the fact that people diagnosed with nonpsychotic mental disorders still sometimes develop subtle or overt psychosis symptoms. Even in their subtlest forms, these symptoms may increase suicide risks, and should therefore count in a suicide risk assessment.
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