Mental health issues are complicated. Different mental health disorders can overlap, they can mimic one another, and they can be difficult to diagnose. One common mental health symptom is a panic attack. Panic attacks involve a variety of symptoms, including psychological distress and physical discomfort. Because they can cause so many symptoms, finding the cause of your issue can be challenging. Plus, several different mental health issues, like panic disorders and post-traumatic stress, can cause panic attacks.
Panic disorders can cause a number of different symptoms on their own. Panic attacks may be followed by periods of depression or anxiety that make you want to avoid places where you’ve experienced attacks before. But can panic disorders cause psychotic symptoms like hallucinations?
Panic disorders often come with other mental health issues like depression and personality disorders, but they don’t often come with psychosis. Psychosis is a mental health condition that’s characterized by a loss of contact with reality. This can include hallucinations, which involve seeing or hearing things that aren’t there and that other people don’t see and hear. Psychosis can also include delusions, which are false beliefs despite the logic or strong evidence against that belief.
However, some people with panic disorders have experienced psychotic symptoms in the past. A 1996 study found four patients with co-occurring psychosis alongside panic disorders. These patients would experience auditory hallucinations during panic attacks. The study concluded that psychotic symptoms could occur as a part of a severe panic attack.
Panic attacks put your body into fight-or-flight mode, often without a trigger or cause. This can cause you to quickly seek out what’s causing your panic symptoms. For most people, symptoms like sweating, heart palpitations, and chest pain lead them to believe they are having a heart attack or experiencing some other physical complications that aren’t really happening.
Others may see a flickering light, or movement in the corner of their eye, and interpret that they’re in danger or they are losing their minds. These are more common symptoms of panic disorders than full-on hallucinations, but they can mimic some symptoms of psychosis.
Dissociation is another common symptom of severe panic attacks that can mimic psychosis. Dissociation is a psychological symptom that’s characterized by a detachment from reality when you feel separated from your body and environment. This can also make people question reality in a way that makes them worry about their sanity.
However, dissociation is considered separate from hallucinations and delusions. Instead, it is thought to be a defense mechanism that allows people to emotionally distance themselves from painful situations. Still, like a runny nose, it’s a defensive response that can cause distress and discomfort.
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Panic attacks and hallucinations are often associated, but they can sometimes happen together. Since these mental health issues can be complicated and difficult to diagnose, it’s important to speak with a medical or clinical professional if you feel like you have a problem. Panic disorders are often treatable with medication or psychotherapy.
Olson, A., Psy.D. (2015, November 06). Dissociation and Psychosis. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/theory-and-psychopathology/201511/dissociation-and-psychosis
Galynker, I., Perez-Acquino, A., Ieronimo, C., Lee, Y., & Winston, A. (1996). Panic Attacks With Psychotic Features. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/9746448/
National Institute of Mental Health. (2018, July). Anxiety Disorders. Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/anxiety-disorders/index.shtml
Todd, C. (2018, March 7). Why Panic Attacks Can Make You Feel Like You're Hallucinating. Retrieved from https://www.self.com/story/why-panic-attacks-can-make-you-feel-like-youre-hallucinating
Star, K. (2020, March 25). Frightening Thoughts Are Common for Those With Panic Disorder. Retrieved from https://www.verywellmind.com/depersonalization-and-derealization-2584238