What is psychosis?

Psychosis impacts on the way a person understands their reality, such as seeing, hearing or believing things that others don’t. When people experience these symptoms, mental health professionals say they are having a psychotic episode. Psychotic episodes can vary in length, they can last for a few days, can continue indefinitely until they are treated or they can come and go.

A first episode of psychosis often happens in late adolescence or young adulthood. It can be very frightening but it’s important to remember that psychosis can be treated. It’s best to get advice and treatment early, as soon as people start experiencing symptoms.

What causes psychosis?

There is no one cause of psychosis. It can be a symptom of a serious mental health problems such as biploar disorder, schizophrenia, personality disorder or severe depression. It can also be triggered by using recreational drugs, a side effect of some prescription medications, or from experiencing trauma, abuse, extreme stress or lack of sleep. Sometimes psychosis runs in families and is thought to have a genetic link.

How do I know if I have psychosis?

Psychosis isn’t a very common and just because you experience some of the signs below doesn’t mean you definitely have psychosis. Only trained professionals can make a diagnosis so if you are worried then see your GP as soon as possible.

Signs of psychosis:

  • Unusual ideas or false beliefs, that are often very frightening – Sometimes people with psychosis believe that other people or organisations are out to get them, are spying on them and want to hurt or even kill them. Others believe they have a special power such as being able to control other people’s thoughts or that they are someone important such as the son of God, the prime minter or a celebrity. These sorts of beliefs can make people feel more cheerful and are not always distressing in themselves. However, the fact that no one else recognises how important they are may make the person feel distressed or angry.
  • Hallucinations – seeing, hearing, smelling or feeling things that aren’t there or that’s others don’t see. Auditory hallucinations such as hearing voices are a common sign of psychosis, these voices are entirely real to the person who is hearing them, so they may talk back or hold a conversation with them. Voices might say, upsetting critical, cruel and frightening things and this can be very distressing. Some voices tell people what to do and can sometimes cause them to take risks or harm themselves. However, not all people who hear voices have psychosis.
  • Confused and jumbled thinking – people with psychosis may find it hard to concentrate or understand things and feel muddled and confused. They might feel that their mind is full of random ideas and their thinking is faster or slower than normal. This is sometimes reflected in the way they speak, they might speak very quickly or say things that don’t make sense.
  • Changes in feelings – experiencing mood swings or feeling isolated and cut off from the world for example. Sometimes people feel low or depressed, or they may feel unusually excited or high for no reason.
  • Changes in behaviour – people might start to behave in odd or unusual ways as a result of their beliefs and hallucinations, and may seem very different to how they were before. Sometimes people have lots of energy and are very active at night for example, or they may have no energy, isolate themselves and struggle to do normal activities. They might laugh at things that don’t seem funny, become upset without an obvious cause or talk to people others can’t see or hear. Their school work and grades might drop or stop going to school, work or social activities. They might struggle to sleep at night, lose their appetite or interest in food, or stop taking care of themselves.

What helps?

If you are worried that you or someone else is experiencing symptoms of psychosis it is important to get professional help as soon as possible. Psychosis is a treatable condition, but is unlikely to go away by itself without treatment.

Treatment for psychosis might include information and education about the condition and how to manage symptoms, counselling or therapy such as CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy), and medication. Medication can be very effective in treating psychosis. You should check out Headmeds for more information about antipsychotic medications.

How can I help myself?

Changes you can make yourself to help:

  • Making lifestyle changes such as learning to manage stress, looking after your diet and exercising
  • Avoiding drugs and alcohol
  • Make sure you are getting enough sleep

Myth buster #1

Myth: People with Psychosis are often violent or dangerous

Fact: While this is how psychosis is often portrayed in films and TV shows, actually people with psychosis are often very frightened and it is more likely that they will be the victim of violence or of harm to themselves than to anyone else.

Myth buster #2

Myth: A person with psychosis has a ‘split personality’

Fact: This is a myth created in popular culture. Having an episode of psychosis might mean that someone behaves strangely; sees, hears or smells that aren’t really there (Hullucinations); or has unusual beliefs and ideas about themselves or the world (delusions) which are sometimes very frightening and confusing. Psychosis is a treatable illness and it is important that prople are encouraged to get help as soon as possible.

Useful resources


Detailed information for young people about psychosis, from the Royal College of Psychiatrists website


Everything you want to know about medication for mental health problems – app and website

Need help now?

If you need to speak to someone urgently call your GP or family doctor!


NHS 24/7 helpline : 0800 038 5300
Childline up to 19 yrs: 0800 1111
The Samaritans: 116 123
In an emergency go to A&E or call 999