Helping you get through tough times

Understanding psychosis

People experiencing psychosis can appear to have lost touch with everyone else’s interpretation of what is going on around them. They experience an ‘altered reality’.

Psychosis is relatively rare, affecting around 3% of people. The most common time of onset is in one’s late teens to early twenties.

rainddrops on window: courtesy of andreika on flickr Positive symptoms of psychosis

People experiencing psychosis usually experience what are called “positive” symptoms.

Positive symptoms are additional experiences or excessive behaviours that differ from what the person usually goes through, and what the general population considers typical.

Some people have many of these positive symptoms, while others do not experience as many.

Symptoms of psychosis

If you’re experiencing positive symptoms, they might include:

Hallucinations – hallucinations are totally unreal feelings – sensing something that is not actually there. The most common of these is ‘hearing voices’ or auditory hallucinations. Some people experiencing psychosis feel that they are being insulted, laughed at or talked about.  This can be deeply disturbing, especially as the voices often speak in a human voice.

Delusions – delusions are unreal beliefs – believing something that others can clearly see is untrue. Often people believe others are plotting against them, trying to kill them or hurt them, and that objects such as the TV or the newspapers are ‘talking to them’ or sending secret messages to them.

Thinking disturbances – people experiencing psychosis or a psychotic illness often feel very confused and find their thoughts jumbled.  Their speech may be disturbed as their thoughts jump from one topic to another.

Psychosis usually occurs in episodes, which are periods where someone is displaying any of these symptoms. For some people, a psychotic episode may develop quickly, while for others the progress is slow.

Some people will only experience one or a small number of episodes in their life and these episodes can be as brief as a couple of days or weeks. A psychotic episode may also be connected to other mental illnesses like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.

Causes of psychosis

The cause of psychosis is not fully understood, although the onset of psychosis may be related to a number of factors:

Family history – psychosis may have a biological link and if a family member experiences a psychotic episode others may be at higher risk.

Stressful events – stressful events may trigger a psychotic episode, especially for those who suffer from a mental illness such as schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder or bipolar disorder.

Drugs – taking drugs such as hallucinogens, amphetamines, and cannabis may trigger a psychotic episode. Usually they need to be taken in high amounts or over a long period of time, however if you have a family history of mental illness they should be avoided.

Treatment for psychosis

It’s important to know that psychosis can be treated. The most effective form of treatment is a combination of medication and therapeutic support.

Medication will need to be prescribed by a doctor or psychiatrist and it’s important that you also get therapeutic help.

A psychologist, social worker or psychiatric nurse can also help manage your symptoms and help you to get on with your life.

Read face-to-face help for details of how to get in touch with a professional who can help.

This article was last reviewed on 03 May 2017

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