Psychosis is when people lose some contact with reality. This might involve seeing or hearing things that other people cannot see or hear (hallucinations) and believing things that are not actually true (delusions).

The 2 main symptoms of psychosis are:

  • hallucinations – where a person hears, sees and, in some cases, feels, smells or tastes things that do not exist outside their mind but can feel very real to the person affected by them; a common hallucination is hearing voices

  • delusions – where a person has strong beliefs that are not shared by others; a common delusion is someone believing there's 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.

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

  • depersonalization-derealization disorder

 

Psychosis can also be triggered by:

  • a traumatic experience

  • stress

  • drug misuse

  • alcohol misuse

  • side effects of prescribed medicine

  • 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.

Treatment for psychosis involves using a combination of:

  • antipsychotic medicine – which can help relieve the symptoms of psychosis

  • Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) 

  • social support – support with social needs, such as education, employment or accommodation

 

Some people are recommended to take antipsychotics on a long-term basis (and possibly for the rest of their lives). Other people may be able to gradually reduce their dosage and then stop taking them altogether if there is a marked improvement in symptoms.

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