Psychosis

What is it?

Each person who experiences psychosis will have a unique experience and combination of symptoms, which may include:

  • Hearing, seeing, smelling, feeling or tasting things that other people don’t (sometimes called hallucinations)
  • Feeling unsafe and that people are working against you, or trying to harm you
  • Believing that you have special powers or abilities
  • Noticing patterns or feeling that things have a special significance for you (such as believing a famous song has been written about you or an event in the news has been caused by you)
  • Finding it hard to follow conversations, getting muddled in your thoughts or when speaking
  • Feeling that your thoughts have been removed or tampered with, or that someone else is in control of your body
  • Some people also become quite withdrawn and experience loss of motivation and emotions

When experiencing psychosis, people often struggle with their relationships, daily activities, school or work.

Some people, when told they have psychosis, worry that they might have a long-term mental illness like schizophrenia.

It’s important to know that psychosis can happen for all sorts of different reasons and having an episode doesn’t necessarily mean that you will have another or that you will have a long-term problem.

When does it happen?

Someone’s first episode of psychosis usually happens in their late teens or early twenties but can happen any time in life. Sometimes it can happen suddenly, but often there are warning signs, which may look like milder versions or brief periods of the above symptoms.

For many people there is a period of particular stress in the lead up. Drugs can also significantly increase the risk of having an episode and some people will have family members with psychosis.

What does psychosis look like?

Responding to things, losing track of thoughts, appearing frightened or being very sure of things which don’t seem to be true, some people are more withdrawn, or their personality seems different. Big changes in behaviour and ability to do their usual activities.

What can I do?

Many young people will experience some of these things from time to time and this does not necessarily mean they have a mental health problem. If you or someone you know is affected by experiences like these and it is causing them problems in life, they may be experiencing or at risk of psychosis and may need support, including from professionals.

Who can help?

If you go to your GP they can help to work out if you might have psychosis and talk to you about how you are feeling even if you do not. Sometimes a GP might advise that you are referred to CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service) or EIS (Early Intervention Service). This will give you the chance to speak to a specialist team who will be able to help you.

Some people worry that if they tell someone they will be sent to hospital. In reality, speaking out early tends to mean that things get better more quickly and hospital isn’t needed.

You can also talk to someone on the CAMHS mental health helpline.

How can psychosis be treated?

Psychosis is treatable and most people recover well. Below is a list of treatments on offer, you don’t have to have all of them, but they work much better in combination.

  • Medicines – usually antipsychotics.

    • These can reduce, or even stop symptoms, often quite quickly.
    • You will be advised to stay on them for a time after your symptoms go away – this helps to prevent future symptoms. However, most people do not need to be on medicine long-term.
    • All medicines have side effects, there are lots of different options and we will try to find the one which works best for you.
    • There is a lot of information available online, but some of it is not accurate. This is a good place to start:
    • NHS – Treating Psychosis
  • Talking therapies – usually CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy).

    • These can help with the distress caused by symptoms (or their underlying cause) and to get back to doing what matters to you.
    • You will be offered one to one therapy sessions, in a setting which suits you.
    • The therapist will work with you to identify a personal goal and how that might be best achieved.
    • Information about how CBT helps with psychosis can be found at the Child Mind Institute website.
  • Family Work

    • Support and education.
    • Structured sessions on communication, problem solving and staying well (often called Behavioural Family Therapy or BFT).
  • Support with education and work

  • Physical health and wellbeing support

Your team will also try help you with things going on in your life, such as other mental health difficulties or problems with friends and family.

For more information on psychosis visit Young Minds or find out how you can get support from CAMHS here.

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Page last reviewed: 15 November, 2022