A useful info-graphic explaining psychosis, from Headspace in Australia
Psychosis is a set of psychological symptoms which have an impact 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; they can continue indefinitely until they are treated or they can come and go.
There is no one cause of psychosis. It can be a symptom of a serious mental health problem such as bipolar, 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 genetic link.
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 and it’s best to get advice and treatment early, as soon as people start experiencing symptoms.
Psychosis is rare, and just because you experience some of the symptoms 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, they will refer you to a specialist service if necessary.
Unusual ideas or false beliefs, that are often very frightening – sometimes people with psychosis will believe that other people or organisations are out to get them, are spying on them and want to hurt them or even kill them. Others believe they have a special power – that they are able to control other people’s thoughts, for example, or that they are someone important such as the son of God, the prime minister or a celebrity. These sort 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 others don’t see. Auditory hallucinations such as hearing voices are a common symptom 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 they experienced these symptoms. 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 in standard or they may 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 – neglecting to have a shower or clean teeth or hair for example.