CONTENT WARNING: this article contains discussions about suicide which some readers may find upsetting, so please read with caution.
By Freddie Cocker
When we’re talking about stigmatised mental health issues, psychosis is one of the least understood and one of the most stigmatised conditions there is.
There’s a lot of discussion about depression and anxiety online and in society right now and rightly so. However, issues like psychosis along with others like schizophrenia and Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) are still considered taboo in many parts of society. These more stigmatised conditions, like psychosis, produce behaviours and reactions from people outside of the norm of what some feel comfortable discussing right now.
Psychosis is defined when a person loses contact with reality. This might involve seeing or hearing things that other people cannot see or hear (hallucinations) and believing things that are not actually true (delusions).
Experiencing the symptoms of psychosis is also often referred to as having a psychotic episode.
When some people think of psychosis or what person goes through a psychotic episode, they might wrongly conjure stereotypical images of a severely mentally ill person in their local park shouting into the air. This is a very harmful stereotype, unhelpful to the conversation and only adds to the stigma surrounding the condition.
I experienced one episode of psychosis in my life aged 20 whilst studying for my final year of my University degree.
In the build-up to it, I had been extremely suicidal for several months prior to this. The day before it happened, I had come quite close to taking my own life without going through with it.
I have told this story on Vent before so some of you readers may know this story already but as a reminder, I was sitting in a seminar room for one of my politics modules when the episode happened.
In this room were various paintings and drawings which had been made by artistic students adorned on the wall.
One such mural contained a group of figures of various shapes. As the seminar started, I began to hear voices from these figures telling me I was worthless, I was hated, nobody liked me, I should kill myself and other disturbing examples.
Luckily, I was able to visit the local university medical centre where I told them I was suicidal and I was assessed straight away and was then put on an eight-week course of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).
Earlier that afternoon, I had visited them and asked to see someone but such was the level of embarrassment I had, I could not face telling them how I truly felt. I was grateful to my close friend at the time Tilly who sat with me through the seminar, took me to the centre and forced me to be honest with them.
To this day I have never heard voices since but I have often wondered about this event in the months and years since.
Given my ignorance on the illness back then, I now wonder given the severity of it, whether I would have been sectioned if I had disclosed to the medical centre that I wasn’t just suicidal but I had heard voices telling me to kill myself? I often think about how if I had disclosed this information how it might have derailed my ability to graduate on time and my life going forward from that point.
I also wonder if these voices were created by my mind as a manifestation of my mental health state at the time. Were these voices reflecting how I viewed myself back at me or did their origins derive from something else? Were the things I was told flashbacks to what my bullies told me or a construct of self-hate of things I associated with myself?
The answer is that I will probably never know.
Thankfully, I don’t live with psychosis and I only experienced a horrifying glimpse into what it might be like to live with it on a regular basis. Whilst this episode was scary at the time and I try not to compare my mental health experiences with anyone, I know that on the spectrum of severity, other people have far more severe psychotic episodes.
If we are to make the conversation around mental health an inclusive one, addressing issues like psychosis and bringing them out into the open is vital for education and so people who are mentally ill can get the treatment they need and can make a positive recovery.
Freddie Cocker is the Founder and Editor-In-Chief of Vent.