Psychosis Explained

People experiencing psychosis are unable to distinguish what is real and is normally associated with a number of illnesses that affect the brain. Around 3% of people will experience a psychotic experience at some point in their life. The period of time where people experience psychotic symptoms is known as an ‘episode’ of psychosis and some people only encounter a few episodes of psychosis or a brief episode that lasts for a few days or weeks. Others may experience symptoms more frequently, in association with a longer-term illness such as schizophrenia. The first episode of psychosis usually occurs in a person's late teens or early 20s.


  • confused thinking

  • delusions – false beliefs that are not shared by others

  • hallucinations – hearing, seeing, smelling, or tasting something that isn't there

  • changed behaviors and feelings


The causes of psychosis are not fully understood, but it is likely that psychosis is caused by a number of factors including:

  • genetic vulnerability – family history of psychotic disorder

  • chemical imbalance in the brain

  • substance use, particularly cannabis, speed, or ice

  • environmental factors

  • psychosocial stress – for people who have had an episode of psychosis, significant stress may be a factor in the development of further episodes


The appearance of psychotic symptoms does not automatically indicate that someone has a psychotic disorder.

To diagnose a psychotic disorder, a mental health professional will do a thorough medical and psychological evaluation over time. They will check for psychosis caused by drugs or other diseases first.


Treatment can do much to reduce, or even eliminate, the symptoms of psychosis. Treatments include:

  • medication – certain medications such as antipsychotics help the brain to restore its normal chemical balance

  • community support programs – ongoing support may be needed to help a person experiencing psychosis to live independently in the community. Support may include help with accommodation, finding suitable work, and the development of social and personal skills

  • psychological therapies such as psychotherapy, cognitive-behavior therapy, family therapy, and counseling are aimed at teaching skills and techniques for coping with stress, improving quality of life, and helping people to manage their symptoms

  • self-help and peer, support groups,

  • lifestyle changes – such as improving general health and reducing stress through activities such as art, music, and exercise can support recovery. Avoiding drugs and alcohol and getting good sleep can also help


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