What is psychosis?
Young people often worry that they may be
‘going mad' when they are feeling stressed, confused or very upset.
In fact, worries like this are rarely a sign of mental illness.
‘Psychosis’ is when your thoughts are so disturbed that you lose
touch with reality. This type of problem can be severe and
How common is it?
Psychosis affects people of all ages, but is
rare before you reach the older teenage years.
What causes psychosis?
When you have a psychotic episode, it can be a
signal of another underlying illness. You can have a psychotic
episode after a stressful event like losing a close friend or
relative. It can also be the result of a physical illness
( like a severe infection), the use of illegal drugs (like
cannabis) or a severe mental illness l(ike
bipolar disorder). Sometimes it is difficult to know what
caused the illness.
How do I know if I have psychosis?
When you have psychosis, you will usually experience very
unusual and sometimes unpleasant thoughts and experiences. They may
appear suddenly making you feel really frightened. They can
also creep in so gradually that only people like your close
family and friends notice you are behaving strangely.
You may experience one or more of the symptoms
- Unusual beliefs called 'delusions'.
These are very strong beliefs which are obviously untrue to
others, but not to you. For example, when you are ill you may think
that there is a plot to harm you or that you are being spied on by
the TV or being taken over by aliens. Sometimes you may feel you
have special powers.
- Thought disorder. This is when you cannot
think straight. Your ideas may seem jumbled, but it is more than
being muddled or confused. Other people will find it very difficult
to follow what you say.
- Unusual experiences called 'hallucinations'.
These are when you can see, hear, smell or feel something that
isn't really there. The most common hallucination that people have
is hearing voices. Hallucinations are very real to the person
having them. This can be very frightening and can make you believe
that you are being watched or picked on.
Having these strange thoughts and experiences
can affect you at school, home or when with friends. You may find
it difficult to concentrate and enjoy your usual activities. They
can even affect your sleep and appetite.
How do I get help? It is important
that you seek help early. The earlier you are treated for
psychosis, the quicker you can get back to your normal life.
Firstly, you could talk to your family, school
nurse or GP. They may get you specialist help from
and Adolescent Mental Health Service
(CAMHS) team or an Early Intervention Team or
Service (EIS) - a specialist team for young people with
With psychosis, you often don’t realise that
you are unwell, which means the people around you might notice
it first. If you become very unwell, you could need some time
in hospital until your condition stabilises.
What is the treatment for
Medications called ‘antipsychotics’ are an
important part of treatment. They may need to be taken for a long
time in order to stay well. As with medication of any kind, there
can be side-effects; the doctor you see will be able to advise you
on these and what can be done to help.
If the psychosis is related to drug use or an
underlying physical illness, you may need specific help and
treatment to manage this.
Other forms of treatment are also important.
You and your family will need help to understand more about your
illness, how to manage it, and how to help prevent it coming back.
You may need support to rebuild your confidence to continue with
school, college or work.
Talking treatments can be helpful as well, but
need to be in addition to medication.
What will happen in the future?
Most young people with early help and treatment recover from
their psychotic episode. If the illness is due to an underlying
physical illness or the use of drugs, you might avoid having
another episode by taking the right treatment and
avoiding using drugs.
It is often difficult to know what the
long-term effects of a psychotic episode will be, and a definite
diagnosis may not be possible straight away.
Is there anything else I should
It is important to continue with any treatment
advised by your doctor and keep a balanced, healthy lifestyle.
Talking to others when you feel stressed can
help in identifying problems early and getting the right
Luke, 16, talks about psychosis
"I was about 14 when it happened. I had a good family, did well
at school and had group of good friends. Life had been good to me
although my mum said I could not handle stress. I would be a bag of
nerves before exams, was scared of failing and could not face is
someone was unwell.
Uncle Rob’s death a year back in the accident
was just too much. I knew I would feel upset for a long time. But
then I didn’t feel upset. It was strange. I thought people were
doing strange things to me like controlling me through radio
signals. I felt I had lost control of myself and even felt my body
was changing in a strange sort of way… not just the puberty. And
then I could not face school, I was swearing, felt muddled in my
head. My learning mentor got worried and spoke to my mum, who had
noticed my strange behaviour. I couldn’t sleep, couldn’t be
bothered about going out. I didn’t like the idea of seeing a
psychiatrist from the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service
and I thought they would judge me. But it was very different. She
seemed to know and understand how I felt, what I thought. I felt
relieved. She even said I was not going to be locked away in a
hospital. It was just an illness for which I needed to take
medication for few months or year.
She then introduced me to Kay, a worker from
Early Intervention Psychosis team. Kay explained to me and my
family all about psychosis, what we could to keep me well. She was
there when I felt I was losing it before my exams. It’s nearly a
year now. I am like any other 16 year old, going to school, with
friends etc... I take my meds and staying away from drugs and