Psychosis is a mental health problem that causes people to perceive or interpret things differently from those around them. This might involve hallucinations or delusions.
Symptoms of psychosis
The two main symptoms of psychosis are:
- hallucinations ↗ – where a person hears, sees and, in some cases, feels, smells or tastes things that aren't there; a common hallucination is hearing voices
- delusions – where a person has strong beliefs that aren't shared by others; a common delusion is someone believing there is a conspiracy to harm them
The combination of hallucinations and delusional thinking can cause severe distress and a change in behaviour.
Experiencing the symptoms of psychosis is often referred to as having a psychotic episode.
Read about the symptoms of psychosis ↗.
When to seek medical advice
You should see your GP immediately if you're experiencing symptoms of psychosis. It's important psychosis is treated as soon as possible, as early treatment can be more effective.
Your GP may ask you some questions to help determine what's causing your psychosis. They should also refer you to a mental health specialist for further assessment and treatment.
Read more about diagnosing psychosis ↗.
Getting help for others
If you're concerned about someone you know, you could contact their GP. If they're receiving support from a mental health service, you could contact their mental health worker.
If you think the person's symptoms are placing them at possible risk of harm, you can:
- take them to the nearest accident and emergency (A&E) ↗ department, if they agree
- call their GP or local out-of-hours GP ↗
- call 999 and ask for an ambulance
A number of mental health helplines ↗ are also available, which can offer expert advice.
Read more about how to get help for others ↗.
Causes of psychosis
It's sometimes possible to identify the cause of psychosis as a specific mental health condition, such as:
- schizophrenia ↗ – a condition that causes a range of psychological symptoms, including hallucinations and delusions
- bipolar disorder ↗ – a mental health condition that affects mood; a person with bipolar disorder can have episodes of low mood (depression ↗) and highs or elated mood (mania)
- severe depression – some people with depression also have symptoms of psychosis when they're very depressed
Psychosis can also be triggered by:
- a traumatic experience
- drug misuse ↗
- alcohol misuse ↗
- side effects of prescribed medication
- a physical condition – such as a brain tumour ↗
How often a psychotic episode occurs and how long it lasts can depend on the underlying cause.
Read about the causes of psychosis ↗.
Treatment for psychosis involves using a combination of:
- antipsychotic medication – which can help relieve the symptoms of psychosis
- psychological therapies – the one-to-one talking therapy cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) ↗ has proved successful in helping people with psychosis; Family interventions (a form of therapy that may involve partners, family members and close friends) have been shown to reduce the need for hospital treatment in people with psychosis
- social support – support with social needs, such as education, employment, or accommodation
After an episode of psychosis, most people who get better with medication need to continue taking it for at least a year. Around 50% of people need to take long-term medication to prevent symptoms recurring.
If a person's psychotic episodes are severe, they may need to be admitted to a psychiatric hospital for treatment.
Read about treating psychosis ↗.
Complications of psychosis
People with a history of psychosis are more likely than others to have drug or alcohol misuse ↗ problems, or both.
Some people use these substances as a way of managing psychotic symptoms. However, substance abuse can make psychotic symptoms worse or cause other problems.
Self-harm and suicide
If you think a friend or relative is self-harming, look out for signs of unexplained cuts, bruises or cigarette burns, usually on the wrists, arms, thighs, and chest. People who self-harm may keep themselves covered up at all times, even in hot weather.
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If you're feeling suicidal, you can:
- call the Samaritans ↗ support service on 116 123
- go to your nearest accident and emergency (A&E) department ↗ and tell the staff how you're feeling
- contact the NHS 111 service ↗
- speak to a friend, family member, or someone you trust
- make an urgent appointment to see your GP, psychiatrist, or care team
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