What is psychosis?
||What are the symptoms of psychosis?
The term ‘psychosis' is used to describe when
a person loses touch with reality. Young people can behave
very differently when they are feeling stressed, confused or very
upset. In fact, these are rarely signs of mental illness. Psychosis
is usually more severe and disabling.
How common is it?
‘Psychosis' can affect people of all ages, but
becomes increasingly common as people reach young adulthood.
What causes psychosis?
When a person has a psychotic episode, it can
be a signal of an underlying illness. You can have a ‘psychotic
breakdown’ 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 like schizophrenia or bipolar
disorder. Sometimes it is difficult to know what
caused the illness.
When a person has psychosis, they may have unusual thoughts and
experiences. These may appear suddenly, or develop gradually over
time. They may have one or more of the following symptoms:
- Unusual beliefs called delusions. These
unshakeable beliefs are obviously untrue to others, but may not be
to the young person themselves. For example, when a young person is
ill, they may think that there is a plot to harm them, or that they
are being spied on by the TV, or being taken over by aliens.
Sometimes they may feel they are a special person or have special
- Thought disorder is when they are not able to
think straight. It may be difficult to understand what they are
saying; their ideas may seem jumbled, but it is more than being
muddled or confused.
- Unusual experiences called hallucinations are
when they can see, hear, smell or feel something that isn't really
there. The most common hallucination people experience is hearing
voices. In psychosis, hallucinations are totally real to the person
having them. This can be very frightening and can make them believe
that they are being watched or picked on.
Having these strange thoughts and experiences
can affect a young person at school, home or when with friends.
They may find it difficult to concentrate and enjoy what they
normally did. It can even affect their sleep, appetite and physical
How to get help?
What wil happen in the future?
The earlier it is recognised that a young
person is ill, the better the chances of getting effective
treatment. This speeds recovery and reduces long-term harm. Some
people can make a complete recovery.
Even if your child won't come with you, it is
helpful to speak to your general practitioner. It is likely that
you will be referred to a psychiatrist in a child and adolescent
mental health service or an Early Intervention Team or Service, if
this is available locally. Early Intervention Teams are specialists
in dealing with young people with psychosis. If your child is very
unwell, they may need admission to hospital for a period of time
until their 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
may be side-effects; the psychiatrist will be able to advise on
what they are and what can be done to help. The risk of
side-effects needs to be balanced against the risk of the damaging
effects of the illness on a young person’s life.
If the psychosis is related to drug use or
underlying physical problems, your child may need specific help and
treatment to manage this.
Other forms of treatment in addition to
medicine are also important. Talking treatments can be helpful. The
whole family will need help to understand more about the illness,
to cope successfully, and to help prevent the illness coming
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, they may be able to avoid
having another episode by taking appropriate treatment and avoiding
When a young person has a `psychotic
breakdown', not due to drug use, it can be difficult to know what
the long-term effects will be, and a definite diagnosis may not be
possible straight away. Some young people may eventually be
diagnosed with a severe mental illness like schizophrenia or
Is there anything else I should
You can help as a parent by supporting your
child to continue with any treatment offered and to keep a
balanced, healthy lifestyle. You may be able to identify the signs
early if their illness recurs in the future, and seek help more
Luke, 16 year old 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 stay away from drugs and