PSYCHOSIS and PSYCHOPATHY
At a seminar on Reporting Mental Health last October organized by Headline (the national media programme for responsible reporting and representation of mental health and suicide) and Shine (campaigning for the rights of people with mental illness) an issue was raised about the widespread confusion between the use of the terms “Psychosis” and “Psychopathy”.
The College of Psychiatrists of Ireland in collaboration with Shine drafted the following explanation. The Office of the Press Ombudsman was requested to circulate the explanation to editors of national and local newspapers for their information.
Psychosis is a treatable mental illness which individuals can experience by itself, or as an aspect of Schizophrenia, Bipolar I, depression, dementia, brain injuries, alcohol misuse, drug misuse and many other conditions. When a person is going through an episode of psychosis they can experience delusions, hallucinations, or paranoia. These can sometimes lead to the individual isolating themselves from others. Hallucinations occur when someone experiences a sensation such as seeing or hearing something which others do not. Delusions consist of personal beliefs, held with complete conviction, that are true for the individual but seem strange or untrue to others. Not everyone will experience the same symptoms of psychosis. Some people will find an episode of psychosis stressful, while others may not. Early intervention is key to supporting the individual in their recovery, dealing with symptoms, and leading the life they wish.
When reporting on psychosis, the expression “a person with psychotic symptoms” or “Tom experiences psychosis” is preferable to ‘Tom is psychotic’. The term psychotic does not imply that a person is dangerous or liable to behave bizarrely.
Psychopathy (including psychopathic and psychopath) is a completely different term. It is a forensic term used to describe a personality with no empathy, a lack of remorse for any crime committed, and a lack of emotions. Psychopathy is not considered to be a mental illness and is therefore not treatable alone within the mental health services. When psychopathic traits become dysfunctional in a person it is termed psychopathic personality disorder.
The word “psycho” is often confused as referring to psychosis in reports about violent personalities or crime. People experiencing psychosis are no more prone to violence than the general population.