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Queen's University
Humphrey Hall, 62 Arch St. • Kingston, ON K7L 3L3 • 613-533-6000 x78478 •

What is a psychotic disorder?

Psychosis is a broad term that refers to a set of behaviours and experiences that make it difficult to understand reality.  An individual who is experiencing psychosis might see or hear objects or people that are not actually real. The person might believe things that are not true; for example, that someone is plotting against him or her, or that thoughts are not under his or her own control.  Many people with a psychotic disorder also have difficulty relating to other people, understanding the emotions and intentions of others, and regulating and demonstrating their own emotions.

Presently, there are several diagnoses that might be given when an individual experiences psychosis:
  • Schizophrenia is a psychotic disorder that is characterized by severe disturbances in thinking, behaviour, and mood. People with schizophrenia are often disabled in many areas of functioning like work, living independently, and social relationships, though many are able to achieve remission from symptoms and even recovery of their functions.

  • Bipolar Disorder is a mood disorder characterized by recurrent episodes of mania and usually (though not always) major depression.  Mania is a condition in which the individual experiences symptoms such as racing thoughts, extreme highs in mood, agitation, and poor judgment.  Major depression is characterized by sad mood, withdrawal from others, fatigue and lethargy.  People with bipolar disorder do not always experience psychosis.  Those that do experience psychosis continue to have the mood symptoms even when they do not have psychosis.

  • Major Depression is a mood disorder characterized by one or more episodes in which a person has symptoms like sad mood, withdrawal from others, fatigue and lethargy.  Like bipolar disorder, people with major depression do not always experience psychosis and they continue to have mood symptoms without psychosis.

  • Schizoaffective Disorder is a psychotic disorder like schizophrenia with the addition of major depression and/or mania.  In contrast those who have psychosis but are diagnosed with bipolar disorder or major depression, people with schizoaffective disorder experience psychosis even when they do not have mood symptoms.

There are many differences among people with a psychotic disorder. A person's symptoms and the course of their illness may vary widely, even within each of these diagnostic categories. Some people who are diagnosed with a psychotic disorder get better and return to their normal level of functioning. For many others, they will continue to experience psychosis, experience relapse, or continue to have difficulty functioning. In the CPD lab, we are interested in determining the predictors of functioning and in developing treatments to help optimize functional outcomes.

Kingston, Ontario, Canada. K7L 3N6. 613.533.2000