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Mental Health and Shared Psychotic Disorder

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What Causes Shared Psychotic Disorder?

The cause of shared psychotic disorder is not known; however, stress and social isolation are believed to play a role in its development.

How Common Is Shared Psychotic Disorder?

The number of cases is unknown, but shared psychotic disorder is rarely seen in clinical settings, such as hospitals, outpatient clinics, or doctors' offices. In many cases, only one of the affected individuals seeks treatment, making a diagnosis of shared psychotic disorder difficult. As a result, many cases might go undetected.

How Is Shared Psychotic Disorder Diagnosed?

If symptoms of shared psychotic disorder are present, the doctor will perform a complete medical history and physical exam. Although there are no laboratory tests to specifically diagnose shared psychotic disorder, the doctor might use various diagnostic tests, such as brain imaging (e.g., MRI scans)and blood tests, to rule out physical illness or a drug reaction as the cause of the delusions.

If the doctor finds no physical reason for the shared psychotic disorder symptoms, he or she might refer the person to a psychiatrist or psychologist, health care professionals who are trained to diagnose and treat mental illnesses. Psychiatrists and psychologists use specially designed interview and assessment tools to evaluate a person for a psychotic disorder. The doctor or therapist bases his or her diagnosis on the person's report of symptoms and his or her observation of the person's attitude and behavior. A diagnosis is made if a person develops a delusion as the result of a close association with another person who has an already-established delusion.

How Is Shared Psychotic Disorder Treated?

The goal of treatment is to relieve the secondary case of the induced delusion and stabilize the primary person's psychotic disorder. In most cases, treatment involves separating the secondary case from the primary case. Other approaches might be necessary if separation is not possible.

Treatment options for the person with shared psychotic disorder might include the following:

  • Psychotherapy: A type of counseling, psychotherapy can help the person with shared psychotic disorder recognize the delusion and correct the underlying thinking that has become distorted. It also can address relationship issues and any emotional effects of a short-term separation from the person with a psychotic disorder. However, psychotherapy without antipsychotic medications is rarely able to alter false, fixed beliefs.
  • Family therapy: Family therapy might focus on increasing exposure to outside activities and interests as well as the development of social supports to decrease isolation, encourage medication adherence, and help prevent relapse. Family therapy also might help to improve communication and family dynamics.
  • Medication: Short-term treatment with antipsychotic medication might be used if the delusions do not resolve after separation from the primary case. In addition, tranquilizers or sedative agents such as Ativan or Valium can help alleviate intense symptoms that might be associated with the disorder. These symptoms include anxiety (nervousness), agitation (extreme restlessness), or insomnia (inability to sleep).
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