Spiritual Psychosis Is in the News - Here's What It Is and What to Know

Get the Full StoryContent warning: This post mentions violence and suicide.

On the morning of the total solar eclipse on April 8, Danielle Johnson - also known as the astrology influencer MysticxLipstick on social media - allegedly killed her partner, her daughter, and then herself. As NBC Los Angeles reports, detectives believe Johnson's astrology-related posts and beliefs about the eclipse could reveal something about her mindset, but there's no definitive way to know what caused these events.

On social media, there has been speculation that mental health issues, like postpartum depression and spiritual psychosis, could have contributed to the violence. The latter of the two, in particular, has been trending on TikTok and Twitter since the tragic event. And it makes sense - tarot readers, medium psychics, and astrologers are showing up on our For You pages more and more, with thousands of likes and millions of views. It's safe to say that the New Age movement has found a home with young millennials and Gen Z. With all the fervor, the idea of spiritual psychosis has been raised from time to time.

I've been practicing tarot reading for three years now. I started around the same time I went to a psychic for the first time and had my spiritual awakening. I'm also a fan of astrology, and have had my birth chart read several times. Despite all of that, though, I'm also very logical with a deep need to know the "why" of every situation. My spiritual and logical sides serve to balance each other out, so I don't go too far in either direction. Sometimes I don't need to know the why, and sometimes there are earthly struggles that spirituality will not fix. Still, when I began to see TikToks about spiritual psychosis on my FYP, I was on high alert.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, psychosis is a "collection of symptoms that affect the mind, where there has been some loss of contact with reality." During an episode of psychosis, people can suffer from hallucinations or delusions, in which they may think they're going to be harmed by others; believe they're all-powerful; and or experience religious or spiritual imagery. There are specific types of psychotic episodes, including postpartum psychosis, which is categorized as the most severe form of postpartum depression. Recovery from psychotic episodes is very much possible, if the underlying condition that's causing the psychosis is appropriately treated and diagnosed early. But if the person refuses treatment or all signs are ignored by their friends and family, the consequences can be deadly.


How to Support Someone Going Through a Psychiatric Episode

When it comes to spiritual psychosis, specifically, it can sometimes be difficult to tell the difference between a spiritual experience and a psychotic one. As researchers from the University of Virginia explained: "Spiritually transformative experiences, unlike most forms of mental illness, may enhance serenity and sense of purpose and expand the experiencer's perception and appreciation of the world." Spiritual psychosis, however, is a mental health condition. So we spoke to two experts about potential signs of spiritual psychosis we should all be aware of.

Isabel Clarke, a consultant clinical psychologist and director of the Spiritual Crisis Network, explains what delineates spiritual psychosis from a genuine spiritual experience. The key is our ability to ground ourselves, or how well we can come back from it, afterwards. "Spirituality is the relationship with that which is beyond and unknowable . . . but this can also go wrong - you can get stuck in that place," she says. "What we say to people who come to us at the Spiritual Crisis Network is the first thing to do is to get grounded in the present moment, the physical reality."

While spirituality is a spectrum of very personal beliefs, many mainstream practices have a grounding element to them. Nature, our planet, and the people around us are as important as the relationship we have to ourselves or to our Tarot decks. Now more than ever, we have to prioritize grounding ourselves to reality and remember we can't just live in our heads, we also have to live.

There are also some specific symptoms that can clue us into spiritual psychosis. Here's what to look out for.

Symptoms of Spiritual Psychosis

Extreme Paranoia

If someone is talking about how everyone is after them, jealous of them, or that they need to protect themselves, it could be a sign of spiritual psychosis. While the evil eye has been around for thousands of years in different cultures, an obsession with it and an extreme distrust of everyone else can be a serious red flag of signal spiritual psychosis.

Some influencers use this type of rhetoric, and it may trigger others into a psychotic episode or push people further into one by isolating them. As Clarke explains, this type of reinforcement can "drive" psychosis in others.

Rapid and Unusual Speech

While there are people who just naturally talk very quickly, the type of rapid speech associated with a psychotic episode feels off instinctually when you first hear it. David Brendel, MD, PhD, a clinical psychiatrist and author of "Healing Psychiatry: Bridging the Science Humanism Divide," explains that a combination of other symptoms may signal psychosis. "If you add lack of logic or reason to the rapid speech, then there's more evidence pointing you towards them being in a psychotic state," he says. In other words, if what someone is saying makes no sense and they're talking ultra-fast, then it could be a symptom of psychosis.

Destructive Tendencies

Someone showing specific symptoms like "having panic attacks, not being able to fall asleep, and not being able to eat" are enough to make us worry for their personal safety and could also signal a destructive psychosis experience, according to Dr. Brendel. Of course, these symptoms alone don't automatically signal spiritual psychosis. They have to be taken into account with the rest of the signs we've talked about here. If someone has become extremely spiritual all of a sudden and are exhibiting self-destructive behavior, spiritual psychosis may be at play. Spiritual practices are meant to help us heal - not just our minds and souls, but also our physical bodies.

Potential Triggers For Spiritual Psychosis

While many people drink alcohol and do recreational drugs to have fun and have no long-lasting side effects, that experience is not true for everyone. Depending on the person's genetic predispositions and mental health history, those same substances could be a trigger for psychotic episodes.

"There has definitely been a significant increase in marijuana-induced psychosis," Dr. Brendel says. He explains that because marijuana today is extremely potent, can potentially come from different sources, and can unknowingly have other drugs mixed in, it's hard to use it safely and trust that it won't cause serious mental health damage. If you know someone who completely changed their personality or their belief system after using, that can be a sign that it's potentially psychosis.

Spiritual psychosis can be hard to spot online - some psychiatrists even struggle to diagnose it IRL. Symptoms of psychosis could also point to other mental health issues, so it's always important to work with mental health and medical experts when someone you know is displaying concerning behavior or rhetoric. Clarke recommends a culturally adapted cognitive behavioral therapy CBT called Comprehend, Cope, and Connect CCC because "it follows the individual's experience in an intuitively accessible way" and "uses mindfulness in a targeted and practical manner that does not require extensive practice or commitment to the wider mindfulness tradition."

The world is absolutely terrifying sometimes, and spirituality can be an important coping mechanism for many of us. But tarot and astrology are meant to be tools to aid us in the real world, and to do that we have to remember to come back to Earth and live it. Some people may be sensitive to getting lost in the rabbit hole of catastrophizing spirituality and astrological events like the eclipse - especially if the information is coming from their favorite astrology influencer. That's why it's important to verify the source of the information we're getting. How do you do that? We suggest checking influencers' websites and other social media accounts to see how long they've been practicing as tarot readers or astrologers - the longer they've been in this career path, the more trustworthy they are. If influencers are urging you to follow, like, or comment in order to "claim" a reading, or if they're using catastrophizing language around an astrological event in order to instill fear, they may do more harm than good.

If you or a loved one are experiencing suicidal ideation or are at risk, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline has several resources and a 24 7 lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Sof a Viera is a queer nonbinary writer based in Brooklyn who was born and raised in Puerto Rico. Their work has appeared in PS, Refinery29 Somos, Remezcla, and LatinaMediaCo.