About psychosis

Whether you’re experiencing psychosis or you’re supporting somebody else through it, psychosis can sound scary and be overwhelming. But psychosis is very treatable, and support is out there.

Young woman looking at laptop screen

What is psychosis?

Psychosis is a medical term that’s used when somebody loses touch with reality as others see it. That means the person with psychosis, or having a psychotic episode, may see or hear things that other people can’t see or hear. Or they may believe things that aren’t actually true. This is often also known as ‘losing touch with reality’.

What causes psychosis?

Psychosis isn’t a mental health condition but can be a symptom of other conditions such as bipolar or schizophrenia.

Additionally, psychosis can also be caused by:

  • Living through a traumatic event
  • Stress
  • A bad experience after taking drugs (a bad trip or bad drugs)
  • Alcohol
  • A reaction to prescribed medication
  • A physical condition, such as a brain tumour

Some people can experience a one-off psychotic ‘episode’, others may experience psychotic episodes regularly and for longer periods of time. Typically, how long and frequent the moments of psychosis are allows healthcare professionals to understand what might have caused it.

Symptoms of psychosis?

It can be hard if you’re experiencing psychosis to know when you’re having an episode. This is because things can feel incredibly real during a psychotic episode. That means it’s generally easier for other people to notice psychosis.

There are two main symptoms of psychosis:

Hallucinations

This is where the person experiencing psychosis sees, hears, smells, feels or tastes things that don’t exist outside of their mind. Instances of smell, feel or taste are slightly rarer than hearing or seeing things – a common hallucination is hearing voices that other people don’t hear.

Delusions

This is where a psychotic episode creates strong beliefs that something exists or is happening that other people don’t see or know not to be true. A common delusion is that somebody is trying to cause you harm, or other forms of paranoia.

Other signs of psychosis

There are a couple of other signs of psychosis, which include:

  • A belief that your life is in danger for a reason that doesn’t appear to be true to other people
  • Erratic thoughts and behaviour, including speaking very quickly and making strange connections between things

Also, it’s common to connect violent behaviour to psychotic breaks, but this is actually pretty rare. Most people experiencing psychosis are rarely dangerous or violent.

I’m having psychotic episodes

If you’re repeatedly experiencing things or believing things that no one else is, or that you think other people might not be seeing, you should talk to your GP. We know the idea of chatting to your GP can be scary and make it seem like there is a problem with you, but your doctor can help you understand why it’s happening and help you manage the causes and the symptoms.

If you do visit your doctor, be ready for them to ask you questions about your general health and lifestyle, as well as your experience. As some people experience psychotic episodes as a result of drug usage, a serious lack of sleep or an illness, your doctor will want to rule those out.

They’ll also try to understand if there’s a psychological reason for your experience (like a traumatic event or stress) and if so, you’ll be referred for specialist help to get proper support!

Remember, you don’t have to go through this alone. While there’s a bit of a stigma around psychosis, many people live through and with it. Your friends and family might already know something is a bit different and may be relieved to hear you talk about it.

Also, there are support services. Hearing Voices Network can help you if you’re feeling nervous talking about your experiences; you can talk online or in a support group.

The voices are making me want to hurt myself

Some sensory experiences, particularly voices, can be really nasty. They may encourage you to self-harm, or even think about killing yourself. If you’re worried you’re in immediate harm, go straight to A&E. If you need to talk to someone, call the Samaritans on 08457 909 090.

When should I get help for psychosis?

You should get help as soon as you feel comfortable doing so. Living with psychosis can be disorientating, because you might not realise straight away that some things aren’t really there. When you feel ok to do so, you should contact your GP or a support group like Hearing Voices Network and begin the experience of talking about it.

If you feel ok to do so, you should also chat to your friends or family, as they’ll be able to offer you support.

I think someone I know is psychotic, what should I do?

It can be scary and hard dealing with someone suffering from psychosis, especially if their beliefs are so convincing they don’t think they have a problem. But there are things you can do to help them (and yourself), including:

  • Talk to them – you may know what they’re experiencing isn’t ‘real’, but the way this is making them feel is real, so try to be understanding. Focus on asking them how they’re feeling instead of dismissing what they tell you. Listen and show sympathy, you don’t have to agree with what they’ve experienced or believe to help them.
  • Encourage them to see their GP – offer to go with them if needs be, or reassure them that the doctor will be on their side.
  • If you think they’re a danger to themselves, you can try to get them sectioned, or in an emergency situation, take them to A&E.

And don’t forget to get support yourself: Talk to people you trust or give SANE a call. It can feel like all of the responsibility is on you, but you can’t deal with this on your own.

How is psychosis treated?

Treating psychosis is about finding what works for you, but it’s typically done through a combination of things, including:

  • Medication – such as antipsychotic medicine, which can help relieve the symptoms
  • Therapy – such as 1-to-1 talking or cognitive behavioural therapy
  • Social support – which is the practice of getting support in your life to help with education, employment and education.

We can help with next steps

If you do want to talk this through with someone, or just have a conversation about how you’re feeling, our helpline is open from 4pm too.

Next Steps

  • SANE offers support and information to people affected by mental illness. Call their helpline on 0300 304 7000, open 4:30pm - 10:30pm every day.
  • Anyone can contact the Samaritans on their 24-hour helpline to talk things through. 116 123
  • If you're under 25 and would like free confidential telephone counselling from The Mix to help you figure things out complete this form and we'll call you to arrange your first session.
  • Mind offers advice and support to people with mental health problems. Their helpline runs nine to six from Monday to Friday. 0300 123 3393
  • Our Crisis Messenger provides free, 24/7 crisis support across the UK. If you’re aged 25 or under, you can text THEMIX to 85258
  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.
  • Need help but confused where to go locally? Download our StepFinder iPhone app to find local support services quickly.

By Holly

Updated on 09-Jul-2020