I see ghosts or shadows

Theresa Nguyen, Mental Health America

If you're seeing things that aren't there, it's important to ask a few questions to find out if something more serious is going on.

1) Do you see things that may or may not be there often?

2) Is it true that no one else can see these things that you see?

3) Does seeing strange things bother you?

4) Do you experience other things that are weird or hard to explain?

If the answer to the above questions are yes, then you might be struggling with the early signs of psychosis. 

Often - Psychosis is common - 3% of people actually see or hear things that aren't there. People who experience psychosis experience things that others don't. They might see shadows, animals, or light changes. You might feel like your eyes or ears are playing tricks on you. These changes in perception don't come once and go away. They are a concern if you're seeing them a bunch of times.

No one else experiences it - as strange as it is to ask, you should ask. Checking your reality is important. If others don't share your experiences or beliefs, this is a sign to check in with your perceptions. The longer you wait to get treatment, the more likely those experiences will feel real. When these experiences seem more and more real - it is a sign that your brain is getting sicker and is having a harder time telling the difference between what is real or not real.

Bothersome - Sometimes people see or hear things that maybe others don't.  Common experiences like this include buzzing or high pitched sounds in your ear. These changes could indicate other mental health problems like an anxiety disorder. When someone is having psychosis, they see, hear, or experience things that really bother them. Maybe they're distracting, scary, or you recognize that your brain really shouldn't be doing that.  When something is bothersome, it's a sign that you should explore more and reach out to someone for help.

Other things are problems - psychosis isn't just seeing things that aren't there. Most people who struggle with psychosis have a handful of symptoms. These include having difficulty thinking, feeling like they don't feel things anymore, or seeing or hearing a variety of things.


What do I do next?

Psychosis can get worse if you are especially stressed, don't get enough sleep, and don't reach out to get help.  The earlier you can get help the better.

Here are some things to consider doing if you're struggling with psychosis.

1) Take a screen and show someone - if you take a psychosis screen, you can bring the results to someone you trust to discuss what to do next. If you need help to learn more and feel safe - check out mental illness feels like to read about people's experiences.

2) Keep stress low - do you notice things that make your symptoms worse? How can you manage those situations so they can be avoided or less stressful?  Stress makes everything worse.

3) Are you getting sleep? If you're not sleeping - this will definitely make brain health worse.  Not getting enough sleep (for days at a time) can indicate that you're experiencing other mental health problems, like bipolar disorder.  Take this test to learn more about bipolar disorder.

4) Treatment - with treatment, early signs of psychosis can resolve. Treatment looks like taking a comprehensive approach to getting better. Someone can help you with school, work, family life, medications, and relationships.  This type of treatment is called Coordinated Specialty Care and has been well researched. Psychosis is an illness that responds relatively quickly (within a week) to medications.  If you are interested in getting medication, you want to talk to a doctor to find the right kind of medication treatment.

Don't struggle alone and don't choose to wait. Taking some kind of step early is key to getting better.

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