The word ''psychosis'' was first used by Ernst von Feuchtersleben in 1845 as an alternative to insanity and mania and stems from the Greek ''ψύχωσις'' (''psychosis''), "a giving soul or life to, animating, quickening" and that from ''ψυχή'' (''psyche''), "soul" and the suffix ''-ωσις'' (''-osis''), in this case "abnormal condition".
The word was used to distinguish disorders which were thought to be disorders of the mind, as opposed to "neurosis", which was thought to stem from a disorder of the nervous system.
The psychoses thus became the modern equivalent of the old notion of madness, and hence there was much debate on whether there was only one (unitary) or many forms of the new disease.
The division of the major psychoses into manic depressive illness (now called bipolar disorder) and dementia praecox (now called schizophrenia) was made by Emil Kraepelin, who attempted to create a synthesis of the various mental disorders identified by 19th century psychiatrists, by grouping diseases together based on classification of common symptoms.
Kraepelin used the term 'manic depressive insanity' to describe the whole spectrum of mood disorders, in a far wider sense than it is usually used today.
In Kraepelin's classification this would include 'unipolar' clinical depression, as well as bipolar disorder and other mood disorders such as cyclothymia.
These are characterised by problems with mood control and the psychotic episodes appear associated with disturbances in mood, and patients will often have periods of normal functioning between psychotic episodes even without medication.
Schizophrenia is characterized by psychotic episodes which appear to be unrelated to disturbances in mood, and most non-medicated patients will show signs of disturbance between psychotic episodes.
During the 1960s and 1970s, psychosis was of particular interest to counterculture critics of mainstream psychiatric practice, who argued that it may simply be another way of constructing reality and is not necessarily a sign of illness.
For example, R. D. Laing argued that psychosis is a symbolic way of expressing concerns in situations where such views may be unwelcome or uncomfortable to the recipients. He went on to say that psychosis could be also seen as a transcendental experience with healing and spiritual aspects.
Arthur J. Deikman suggested use of the term "mystical psychosis" to characterize first-person accounts of psychotic experiences that are similar to reports of mystical experiences.
Thomas Szasz focused on the social implications of labeling people as psychotic, a label he argues unjustly medicalises different views of reality so such unorthodox people can be controlled by society.
Psychoanalysis has a detailed account of psychosis which differs markedly from that of psychiatry. Freud and Lacan outlined their perspective on the structure of psychosis in a number of works.
Since the 1970s, the introduction of a recovery approach to mental health, which has been driven mainly by people who have experienced psychosis (or whatever name is used to describe their experiences), has led to a greater awareness that mental illness is not a lifelong disability, and that there is an expectation that recovery is possible, and probable with effective support.
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