themighty logo

Please Stop Using the Word 'Psychotic' Inaccurately

What do you think of when you hear the word “psychotic?” If you think it means the person is dangerous, acting erratically or is otherwise “crazy,” you may need to think again.

In psychiatry, psychotic is used to describe a person who experiences symptoms of psychosis. There are several specific symptoms of psychosis. First, the person experiencing psychosis may have hallucinations. For example, they may hear or see things that aren’t really there. Second, the person may experience delusions, which are fixed, distorted thoughts. Psychosis is a very real symptom of many illnesses, including bipolar disorder, depression and schizophrenia. Psychosis is not indicative of violent behavior, and most people experiencing psychosis are not a threat to others. Additionally, it is generally treatable with medication.

What is it like to experience psychosis? It can be frightening, especially if you are experiencing psychosis for the first time, although not all symptoms of psychosis are necessarily negative. Moreover, experiencing psychosis can also be very isolating because friends and family often don’t understand.

What is it like for someone who experiences psychosis to hear someone misuse the term psychotic in a derogatory manner? I can tell you it doesn’t feel good. The insult stings and conjures up images from movies of wild, violent people who have lost all touch with reality. When I was experiencing psychosis due to my bipolar disorder, I had to fight hardest against the internalized stigma I held that I was “crazy” and had no hope of getting better. Now I know those thoughts are entirely untrue. Every time a person misuses the term psychotic, however, it perpetuates the stigma. A banner promoting The Mighty's new Bipolar 1 Support group on The Mighty mobile app. The banner reads, Join the Bipolar 1 Support group to connect with others who understand what it's really like to live with hypomania, rapid-cycling, depression and more. Click to join.

Psychotic is not synonymous with “crazy,” and people experiencing psychosis need to understand there is nothing “wrong” with them; they are merely experiencing the symptoms of an illness. When I started to view my symptoms of psychosis as signs of an illness rather than a defect in my character, I was able to overcome the internalized stigma and get better. I learned how to cope by talking online with people who regularly experienced psychosis and who had learned to deal with the symptoms in a positive manner. I sought treatment via medications and therapy. I now use my psychosis as a thermometer to track the severity of my bipolar disorder. I don’t punish myself when I relapse; I accept the symptoms for what they are and I move on.

The next time you hear someone misuse the term psychotic to mean the person is dangerous or “crazy,” speak up. Tell them it isn’t OK and give them a chance to pick a better word. Join me in the fight against stigma.

Getty image by m-imagephotography