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What Does a Criminal Law Attorney Need to Know About Psychosis?

Courtesy of Godoy Medical Forensics


Psychosis is a condition that distorts attunement with reality. Throughout the years, there have been many criminal cases involving this rather complex illness.

Due to its nature as a mental condition, it can be difficult to ascertain whether a person truly deals with psychosis. Taking that into account, here are the key aspects that you should understand about psychosis:


Medscape outlines that hallucinations and delusions are the main symptoms of psychosis. Hallucinations cause the person to sense things that are not actually there and can affect any of the five senses. Delusions focus on thoughts that run counter to what is really happening, and are more difficult to assess as it is difficult to know exactly what the patient is thinking.
Psychotics usually have a view of themselves and the world that is contrary to their status quo. Examples include having an exaggerated sense of self or a perception of dying even when the person is otherwise healthy. Other common symptoms include:

  • Suspiciousness.
  • Withdrawal from family and friends.
  • Disorganized speech, such as switching topics erratically.
  • Depression and anxiety.
  • Suicidal thoughts or actions.
  • Difficulty concentrating.
  • Constant negative mood.
  • Sleeping too much or not enough.


Studies have yet to prove what roles environment and genealogy play in psychosis. According to Medical News Today, however, the following are likely causes:

  • Drug reaction and interaction – for instance, taking LSD can lead to hallucinations. Alcohol and drug abusers experience hallucinations when they go into rehab.
  • Diet and extreme nutrient deficiencies.
  • Lack of sleep.
  • Genealogy – if a close relative has psychosis, then family members have a fairly high risk of developing the condition, too.
  • Situation – Victims may suffer symptoms temporarily during high stress scenarios like the death of a loved one.
  • There are also certain illnesses which cannot be ruled out as risk factors, such as brain tumors, Parkinson’s Disease, and Huntington’s Disease. Dementia stemming from conditions like HIV, Alzheimer’s Disease, syphilis, epilepsy, and strokes can also cause psychosis.

Types of Psychosis

Like anti-social personality disorder, which was tackled in another Godoy Medical article, psychosis can be broken down into different types.

  • Temporary psychotic disorder caused by emotional pressure.
  • Drug/alcohol induced.
  • Result of physical head injury and illness.
  • Bipolar disorder – notable mood swings result in psychotic episodes. If the person is emotionally high, he/she may believe that they are superhuman. Conversely, the afflicted individual may become overly paranoid when feeling low.
  • Schizophrenia.
  • Psychotic depression – extreme depression with bouts of psychosis.

How to Assess, Detect Symptoms, and Determine Culpability

While this serves as a guide to identify these specific types of patients, you will still need an expert to confirm any suspicions. There are many professionals and agencies that you can get in touch with, such as the American Psychiatric Association. In fact, more people are being called into the field due to the increasing number of psychosis incidents globally. Data from the World Health Organization show that 1 in 13 people worldwide may experience a psychotic episode before the age of 75. To help address the situation, educational institutions now have online courses that train students to make assessments, identify symptoms, and judge the level of responsibility a subject has in a crime. Maryville University details that Forensic Psychology covers the implications of mental conditions like psychosis in lawsuits. The program extensively tackles matters on criminology, abnormal psychology, and testing. Professionals in this sector can assist in cases that involve psychosis by conducting a psychiatric evaluation that tests the severity of the condition. Such process is vital in determining if the client actually had criminal intent.

Interaction with a client suffering from psychosis can range from difficult to downright dangerous. Identifying the condition is crucial so it’s advisable to work with a forensic psychiatrist to help with the case.

Blog post specially prepared for GodoyMedical.net by Eleanor Ruth.