Differentiating psychosis, delusion and hallucination
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06-15-15 Category: Mental Health, Therapy


Since all mental disorders feature some distortion or dysfunction within the brain or its associated thought processes, one may predict that a fair amount of mental disorders share symptoms and other related characteristics. For example, while anxiousness may define many anxiety disorders, illnesses like schizophrenia can also exhibit similar symptoms. Severely dampened mood and pessimistic tendencies are staples of unidirectional depression, but they may also be displayed by a bipolar disorder. It is imperative for experts to have the ability to distinguish one type of symptom from another.


Psychosis, delusions and hallucinations tend to get confused and misconstrued. In layman’s terms, words like “delusional” and “psychotic” are interchangeable. Also, hallucinations may also be called “illusions” in a visual context, which is not far from sounding like “delusions.” As a result, the symptoms of these conditions tend to overlap. Understanding and identifying what exact features are being displayed may require a higher standard of education than what currently exists in mental health care.

First of all, the word psychosis is an umbrella term that encompasses delusion and hallucination. It typically refers to a serious distancing from reality. Psychosis is a blanketing identifier that covers a wide range of different indicators, as it can stretch into the realms of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. For this reason, pointing out the exact reason for its onset in a person is difficult with an untrained eye.


Delusion is defined as internal thoughts and beliefs that are not only rigid, but also illogical in nature. One of the most dangerous features of this symptom is how diverse it can be. Some of the most common varieties of delusion are either persecutory or referential. Persecutory delusions revolve around the idea that the person will suffer from harm or harassment. Potential threats can range from predatory individuals to looming organizations. Another major type is referential delusion, which is defined by a preoccupation with surrounding gestures, conversations and other environmental elements. An individual will begin to think that all of these unrelated cues are directed at him or her. Some delusions are defined by the following:

  • Somatic, or related to the person’s body
  • Grandiose, or excessive in importance or ambition
  • Religious in nature
  • Bizarre, or beyond limitations of ordinary life and possibility


Hallucinations are not formed from one’s thoughts, they are experienced through one’s sensory system. In fact, these episodes can occur through any of the five senses. Auditory and visual are the most common cases, but smell, taste and touch are possible as well. However, these sensory mechanisms are not stimulated by normal, environmental stimuli, but are fabricated by the brain itself. The lack of a triggering cue or stimulus in this process is attributed to mental misfiring and malfunction. Conscious perceptions are involuntarily mixed with unconscious perceptions, resulting in a confusing disconnection from one’s reality.

Hallucinations can occur in the form of visions, voices or other sensory feelings. A primary source of confusion is when these feelings share similarities with delusionary experiences. For example, a person may hear persecutory thoughts or comments, but have trouble distinguishing if they were spoken by someone or came from his or her mind. The most defining and delineating discrepancy between delusion and hallucination is that one symptom affects thoughts while the other impacts the senses. These processes are controlled by separate and distinct areas of the brain. The latest line of research states that delusions are a result of overactive dopamine centers, which transform normal, environmental stimuli into extremely personal and relevant information. Similar studies show that hallucinations can be traced to various locations in the brain depending on the type of hallucination, but observations consistently find a reduced volume of grey matter in the prefrontal cortex that could contribute to the involuntary nature of the symptom. When trying to decipher one’s own or a loved one’s symptoms, many health organizations suggest asking a few questions to ascertain what the person is experiencing:

  • “Are you having any thoughts about hurting yourself or others?”
  • “Are you hearing voices other than mine? What are they telling you?”
  • “What do you see, feel, taste or smell?”

Accurate diagnoses are the key to ensuring effective treatment for an individual. By teaching everyone how to differentiate and classify specific diagnostic information, managing mental illness early is essential in ensuring successful recovery and preventing the progression of a disorder to an irreversible degree. Sovereign Health of California is an organization that aims to not only treat clients suffering from their respective symptoms, but to educate communities across the nation in order to improve prevention and equip people to help themselves and others with mental illness. For more information, click on our live chat to speak with a representative available 24 hours a day, seven days a week or call (866) 819-0427.

Written by Lee Yates, Sovereign Health Group writer

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