Psychosis is a term used to describe when a person’s experience of reality is affected and they believe in or see things that are not real. People experiencing psychosis have difficulty with the way they see reality and can be easily confused. Sometimes, psychosis is referred to as a ‘loss of reality’.
Psychosis can change the way you think, act, sense and feel. This can be frightening and confusing. People around you may also be confused about what is going on.
In most cases, psychosis is experienced as an ‘episode’ — a period of sudden-onset symptoms like delusions or hallucinations. Some people will have only one episode of psychosis, while others will have further episodes through their life. Importantly, psychosis can be treated and most people make a good recovery.
Psychosis isn’t a mental illness diagnosis in itself. It is a symptom associated with many different mental disorders. Diagnosis of psychosis usually depends upon the type of symptoms, what brought on the illness, and how long symptoms last. The main mental disorders with psychosis are schizophrenia, where a person has an altered experience of reality; and bipolar disorder, where a person experience’s extreme highs (mania) and extreme lows (depression). Psychosis can also be drug-induced, by an adverse reaction to prescription drugs, excessive use of alcohol, or use of recreational and illicit drugs (including amphetamine-type substances and cannabis for some people).
Psychosis affects about 3% of the population. Males are more likely to be affected than females with 64.8% of people experiencing their first psychotic episode before the age of 25.[i] Having a psychotic episode doesn’t mean that you have a mental illness. More than 75% of psychotic experiences don’t progress to a diagnosed illness.[ii]
[i] Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Estimating the number of people with psychotic illness treated by public specialized mental health services, https://www1.health.gov.au/internet/publications/publishing.nsf/Content/mental-pubs-p-psych10-toc~mental-pubs-p-psych10-exe~mental-pubs-p-psych10-exe-est
[ii] Headspace, What is psychosis and the effects on mental health, https://headspace.org.au/young-people/understanding-psychosis-for-young-people/
There’s no one cause of psychosis. A number of different factors can contribute to it, including:
Symptoms of psychosis can be different for different people. Some may have a range of symptoms, while others may only experience one. Common symptoms of psychosis include:
This example might help make things clearer, by putting these symptoms into perspective:
Lee is 17 years old and in Year 11. She helps care for her mum who lives with severe depression. Some days her mum seems okay, but other days she’s not. Lee finds she wakes up feeling stressed each morning, wondering how her mum will be. On days where her mum seems fine in the morning, Lee has trouble concentrating in class, because she worries whether her mum will still be good when she gets home. On days when her mum isn’t well, Lee tends to keep to herself and not engage in conversations with her friends because she feels sad.
Lately, Lee has been worried about not keeping up with her schoolwork. She has noticed that sometimes in class she has a lot of trouble concentrating or understanding what the teacher is saying. When the teacher asks her a question, her mind sometimes goes blank, and she can’t remember what class she’s in. Other times, she has trouble explaining what she means because it feels like she is thinking extra-slowly, and that her thoughts don’t make sense at all. Lee also feels that a group of girls at school are spying on her. She feels they are always watching her when she eats lunch, that they listen to what she is talking about with others, and follow her to the bus stop in the afternoons. As this becomes more annoying to Lee, she builds up the courage to confront the group who have no idea what she is talking about and tell her she is imagining things.
In the example above, Lee has some very normal reactions to her life:
However, Lee also shows some symptoms of psychosis:
If you’re having some strange experiences you can’t explain, or have noticed thoughts and behaviours that are unusual, make sure you speak to someone. This could be a teacher, support worker or a counsellor. You should also visit your doctor, who can develop a treatment plan to help you feel better. This might involve speaking to a mental health professional and/or being prescribed medication. The sooner you get help, the faster your recovery will be.
Other things you can do include:
Psychosis is a serious issue that can have a big impact on your life, so don’t ignore any symptoms if you notice them. Make sure you visit your doctor to find out what is going on.
To find out more, you can call:
Kids Help Line — 1800 55 1800
Headspace — 1800 650 890
Lifeline — 13 11 14. You can also ask for help via text message on 0477 13 11 14
You can find more information about psychosis at:
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