Throughout history, we’ve used a variety of definitions, both colloquial and clinical, for neurosis and psychosis. These definitions have changed many times and continue to be debated today. Here’s what you need to know about psychosis and neurosis, including how these conditions are alike and how they differ.

  • Neurosis: A term used to describe some mental health conditions. Typically involves expressions of obsessive behaviors, hypochondria, an intense need for control, dissociative states, depression, or anxiety. This is not a term used in clinical diagnosis, and some people view neurosis as a personality trait that we all have to some degree.
  • Psychosis: A term used within clinical diagnosis to describe an abnormal mental state. This mental state can involve experiencing delusions, paranoia, hallucinations, and difficulty telling what’s real and what’s not. This can lead to distressed emotional states and disorganized speech.

Both conditions can produce excessive amounts of stress and can make day-to-day life difficult in some situations.

Neurosis and psychosis have some likenesses, which leads some people to use these terms interchangeably. However, as you’ve seen they have very different definitions.

Both involve mental health conditions that can cause anxiety, depression, panic attacks, and agitation. Often people with these conditions find it difficult to control their train of thought, and they may have difficulties related to generalized anxiety, executive function, and decision-making.

In both neurosis and psychosis, symptoms can likely affect personal and professional relationships.

Psychosis refers to a specific category of abnormal mental states. Because neurosis is not a clinical term and can mean different things to different people, it can be hard to tell where the line is between the two terms.

The main difference between psychosis and neurosis lies in perspective.

A person experiencing episodes of neurosis might experience periods of unhappiness or feel overwhelmed by work, family, and life in general. They might also worry or have obsessive thoughts. However, they can usually recognize anxious thoughts and understand the impact these thoughts have on their life and relationships.

A person experiencing episodes of psychosis, on the other hand, may be unable to find that perspective. They can experience hallucinations and/or delusions, which include hearing voices or seeing things that others don’t. Occasionally they may also believe they have special powers, become suspicious of family and friends, or believe someone means them harm.

Another difference is that experiencing psychosis more frequently requires medication to control thoughts and behavior. A person with neurosis may only need counseling or behavioral therapy.

It’s important to note that neurosis is not a term that is included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). It is not a term that is usually used in a clinical diagnosis.

Psychosis and neurosis aren’t mental illnesses in themselves, but rather categories of mental health symptoms. Here’s a breakdown of conditions in which psychosis or neurosis might appear:

Can neurosis be a good thing?

Neurosis is only a problem when it causes anxiety or disrupts life. It can, however, be beneficial under certain circumstances.

For example, due to your experience with anxiety and depression, you might show greater empathy to those who are currently going through those negative emotions. And if you can tend to overthink, you might easily foresee negative outcomes and avoid dangerous risks.

The key is learning how to harness anxious thoughts for your benefit, and it’s an excellent goal to work with a therapist to achieve.

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Neurosis is an unofficial term used to describe some mental conditions, and psychosis is an official label for some symptoms experienced under certain mental conditions. So it’s very possible that someone could have multiple mental health conditions that could involve episodes of both neurosis and psychosis.

For example, someone could have OCD and schizophrenia and would likely experience both neurosis and psychosis within the total list of their symptoms. This isn’t because of a connection between the two, it’s just an overlap of symptoms.

Some research has found that it’s fairly common for some people to experience episodes of both neurosis and psychosis in the full scope of their mental health symptoms.

Can neurosis turn into psychosis?

Despite their connection, neurosis doesn’t turn into psychosis. If episodes of both are present, it’s most likely due to multiple, overlapping conditions. Comorbidity (or having more than one) within mental health conditions is quite common.

It is possible for your anxiety to become so severe that symptoms of paranoia can develop, but this isn’t psychosis.

If you’re concerned about your mental health symptoms escalating, it can be helpful to keep a journal of your symptoms and discuss it with your therapist or psychiatrist.

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Whether you or a loved one lives with psychosis or neurosis, it’s possible to cope with both mental disorders. Learning how to manage stress and anxiety might decrease symptoms, but talking with a mental health professional to determine the underlying cause of the neurosis or psychosis is the best way to address them.

Because these terms represent a wide spectrum of mental health symptoms, the treatment methods also vary greatly but may include therapy, psychiatric medications, or in-patient treatment at a psychiatric ward.

Learn more about how to find the right therapist for you or how to find a psychiatrist, even without insurance.

If you or a loved one is living with neurosis or psychosis, know that you’re not alone. While mental health conditions can sometimes have negative associations, there’s no shame in being open about your mental health or seeking treatment for it. The organizations below may be able to help you on your journey:

If a loved one experiences neurosis or psychosis, be empathetic and allow them to talk about their feelings. Expressing themselves can improve their outlook, and your reassurance can boost their confidence. Work with them to help them find treatment options that can help improve their quality of life and experience less stress — not through any attempt to “fix” them.

  1. Neurosis: An unofficial term used to talk about a spectrum of mental health conditions that involve anxiety, obsessive thoughts, and dissociative episodes.
  2. Psychosis: An official label for some symptoms of mental health conditions. These episodes involve seeing or hearing hallucinations, extreme emotional distress, and delusional beliefs.

Some people use the terms neurosis and psychosis interchangeably, but they represent very different elements of mental health conditions and their symptoms. Understanding their differences can help you get the right type of support and treatment, which can improve the quality of your life.