All about psychosis

Around 3 in 100 people will experience a psychotic episode, making it more common than you may think.While it sounds a bit worrying, psychosis is treatable and most people will make a full recovery. Find out what psychosis is and its causes, the symptoms of psychosis, the types of psychosis and what you can do if you experience it.

Signs this may be a problem:

  • You're seeing or hearing things that aren’t there
  • You're believing things which most people believe aren’t true
  • You've experienced having jumbled and mixed up speech

What is psychosis?

Psychosis is when someone experiences an ‘altered reality’, which means that they’ve lost touch with everyone else’s interpretation of what is going on around them. Psychosis is most likely to occur in young adults and is quite common, with around 2 in 100 young people experiencing a psychotic episode. Most make a full recovery from an episode .

The cause of psychosis isn’t really understood, but its onset can be related to a number of factors:

  • Family history. If a family member experiences a psychotic episode you may be at higher risk.
  • Stressful events. Particularly for people who suffer from disorders like schizophreniabipolar disorder, or schizoaffective disorder, a stressful event can trigger a psychotic episode.
  • Drugs. Hallucinogenic drugsamphetamines and cannabis can trigger psychotic episodes. Usually drugs need to be taken in high amounts over a long period of time to trigger psychosis, but if you have a family history of mental illness they should be avoided.

Signs and symptoms of psychosis

The symptoms of psychosis are known as ‘positive symptoms'. Positive symptoms are perceptions, thoughts and behaviours that are not experienced in the general population. Examples of symptoms include:

  • Thought disorder. Things like confused thinking, having difficulty concentrating, following conversations or remembering stuff.
  • Delusions. Thinking things are happening that aren’t, e.g. believing you’re being watched or followed or feeling like you have special abilities or powers.
  • Hallucinations. Seeing, hearing, feeling, smelling or tasting experiences that aren’t actually happening. These feelings can be quite intense.
  • Mood swings or changes in how you’re feeling.
  • Inappropriate behaviours. For example, laughing at sad news or becoming particularly upset or angry without cause.

Types of psychosis

While psychotic episodes are usually diagnosed as being a certain ‘type’ of psychosis, everyone's experience of psychosis is different. This means that a diagnosis isn’t set in stone, and professionals treating the symptoms will review and change the diagnosis if necessary.

Diagnoses include:

  • Schizophrenia- the disorder in which psychosis is most commonly featured
  • Schizophreniform disorder
  • Schizoaffective disorder
  • Drug intoxication
  • Delusional disorder
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Major depression with psychotic features
  • Brief reactive psychosis

The type of psychosis a person is diagnosed with depends on their symptoms, the cause, and how long the symptoms last.

What to do about it?

Psychosis is treatable. The most effective form of treatment involves using a combination of medication and therapeutic support (like counselling), so professional help is necessary. It can be hard to know where to find the right support you need. ReachOut NextStep is an anonymous online tool that recommends relevant support options based on what you want help with. Try ReachOut NextStep to learn about the support options available for you.


If you think you may be experiencing symptoms of psychosis, it’s a good idea to visit your GP - professional help will make diagnosing and managing your symptoms much quicker and easier. Psychosis is much easier to manage if it is treated by a professional in its early stages.

What can I do now?

Last reviewed: 03 May, 2016
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7 Comments

  • Sophie-RO    (649 days ago)

    Hey neko - it's great that you are talking to your doctor - and it's definitely a good idea to talk to your doctor about the the friend you are not sure is real or not. There is really no reason to be embarrassed either way, in fact if you able to talk to your doctor about it (whether he is real or not) shows great strength, because it's not easy to open up about the help that we need... I really hope that you have mentioned this to your doctor and we would love to hear how it went. Please come on over to our forums if you'd like to talk more! http://forums.au.reachout.com/

  • neko    (652 days ago)

    I have been struggling with lots of mental illnesses my whole life and I just sort of found out I might be psychotic. I have a lot of the symptoms I've read about on multiple websites, such as thinking people can read my mind, hallucinations, hearing voices, unusually bad memory, isolating myself 100% from everyone and everything, and now I'm starting to worry that one of my friends might be a delusion. I'm fairly certain he's real, but he sort of came out of nowhere and none of my friends ever mentioned him, when we were together in public, we both have severe social anxiety so none of us talked to anyone, so I can't use that to tell if other people can see him, and he's kind of like me, which makes me think I wasn't good enough at imagining a completely new person so I used bits of my personality to create him. So, I really want to know, is there any way to actually tell if a friend is real or not? Or, if he is a delusion, would I even be questioning it? I think I'll be embarrassed either way, because if he is real, I've spent all this time worrying about him being part of my mental illness, and if he isn't, I had been talking to myself every time I'd hang out with him. I'm going to see my GP tomorrow to get help for everything that's going on, but I'm not sure if I should mention that I think I might be delusional, in case my friend is real and I just embarrass myself. Sorry this comment is so long, I hope it's not too annoying to read.

  • Sophie-RO    (1008 days ago)

    Hey there canuhelp: glad you found us here on Reachout.com, you sound pretty concerned about what's been going on for you. No one should have to put up with feeling down and on edge and there are people out there who can help you with that, as well as drug use if you want it. Though it sounds like your biggest worry is feeling stressed and anxious. You don't have to figure it out on your own, headspace can help. You can either drop into your local centre or call them (http://www.headspace.org.au/headspace-centres) or you can webchat online or on the phone with https://www.eheadspace.org.au/ Let us know how you go or if you want to talk about it further with other people who might have been through something similar, check out our forums (http://forums.au.reachout.com/)

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