This is the final installment of The Psych Writer series on Major Depressive Disorder. This week, we turn our focus on MDD with Psychotic Features.
Of course, when writing any disorder, focus on showing rather than telling, and remember, your character is human. Give them more dimensions than their disorder.
What’s tricky about writing MDD with psychotic features is not making it look like schizophrenia or bipolar with psychotic features. You will need to make sure that the depressive features are most prominent, otherwise the reader isn’t going to get it.
Naturally our writings are always open to interpretation by the reader–that’s what makes it such an enriching experience. It’s not the focus on the symptoms that makes the writing interesting, anyway. It’s the expression of the character and their life that makes the reading compelling.
So, we’ve already reviewed what MDD is all about, but what about psychotic features? Psychotic is a word that’s used in lay terms that tends to get confused with other terms (hell, even I’ve confused the terms when I was exhausted at one point). Psychotic is a term for losing touch with external reality.
The patient who is psychotic can experience any of the following, with some examples for illustrative purposes:
- delusions – believing someone has bugged their home, is being gang stalked, they have a terrible disease, or that they’re the Archduke Ferdinand.
- hallucinations – seeing, hearing, tasting, or smelling things that aren’t there, such as seeing a person that no one else can see.
- anxiety – the person may seem anxious and restless.
- withdrawal from family and friends – sometimes due to the delusions and hallucinations, the patient withdraws from social interactions. This is not just an “oh, I don’t want to go to the mall.” This is more like they don’t answer any of their phone calls and they stop talking to people entirely. Think the most extreme form of withdrawal possible.
- suicidal ideation and actions – they may attempt to kill themselves or think about it all the time.
- disorganized speech – this isn’t your average non-sequitur. Disorganized speech is often completely incoherent. There are several types of DS:
- word salad – seemingly random words put together in a sentence. “My pants raisin toggle the burp slurped in a cat.”
- derailment – completely unrelated or tenuously related ideas put together as if they were related. “I have to pick up my dry cleaning. There’s a bar in the street that keeps me from walking to the park.”
- neologisms – words that are made up. “I took my wife to the helgistahooven for a new haircut.”
- perseveration – a response repeated uncontrollably (this can be verbal or gestural). “Did you pack a pair of socks?” “Socks, socks, socks, socks, socks, socks, socks…”
- thought blocking – when a person stops talking abruptly in the middle of a sentence without any explanation. “I went to the store and-” *silence*
- pressured speech – rapid speech that sometimes is incoherent.
- difficulty concentrating – this is pretty self-explanatory.
- hypersomnia or insomnia – sleeping too much or not enough.
- suspicion of others and situations – this is usually due to delusions.
Keep in mind that the person with psychosis is typically unaware of these symptoms and signs. They are often so out of touch with external reality that they have no idea that their delusions or hallucinations aren’t real, and that their behavior has changed to be out of the ordinary.
Here you see there are some things that crossover with depression, such as suicidal thoughts or actions, anxiety, and withdrawal. Knowing this, it’s easy to understand how difficult differential diagnosis can be.
The standard treatment for MDD with psychotic features is antidepressants and antipsychotics. If that doesn’t bring relief, ECT (electroconvulsive therapy) is another common method.
Overall, when writing a character with this disorder, there’s an opportunity to do a little reality bending. Just don’t make it too much of a trope.
Coming up for The Psych Writer, we’ll tackle some of the following subjects (not necessarily in this order):
- Bipolar Disorder I and II
- Munchausen Syndrome
- Munchausen-By-Proxy Syndrome
- Anxiety Disorders – Generalized Anxiety Disorders, Panic Disorder, PTSD
- Autism Spectrum Disorder
- Personality Disorders: Exploring the three clusters of the ten disorders.
I also take requests. Any disorder you’d like me to explore? Contact me via Facebook.
Anne is a former supervised therapist at the Master’s level who abandoned it all to become a writer. Visit her shiny Author Page to learn more about her and read some of her more macabre thoughts on paper (or eBook).