Mental Health & Emotional Wellbeing

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What is Psychosis?

Psychosis is a type of mental health problem, or mental illness, that can seriously affect the way you think and feel.  It is a lot more common than you may think, with about 3 out of every 100 people expected to experience a psychotic episode at some point in their life, making it more common than diabetes.

Psychosis can happen to anyone and, like many other illnesses, it can be treated.

How does psychosis affect people?

People with psychosis may experience all of the things described below or only some of them.  It may also be that some people experience some of the things but do not have psychosis.

Symptoms of psychosis

Psychosis is identifiable by a number of symptoms

These symptoms can be broken down into 3 categories:

  • Positive symptoms
  • Negative symptoms
  • Mood symptoms

Positive Symptoms

Positive symptoms involve experiencing something unusual that you did not experience before you had psychosis. They can sometimes leave people feeling very muddled about what is real and what isn’t.

There are three types of positive symptoms, Hallucinations, delusions and confused thinking.


Hallucinations are experiences in which people believe they hear, see, feel, smell or taste things that aren’t really there.

Hearing voices is the most common type of hallucination. At times the voices can say nice or funny things whilst at other times the voices may say nasty things.  Voices can be scary and may also tell people to do things they don’t want to do.


This is when people may believe something that isn’t true to most people.  The person may feel sure about this belief and often it will seem very real to them.

Examples of delusions include:

  • That other people or persons want to harm you,this could include close family
  • That people on radio or the TV are talking to you or sending you messages
  • That your thoughts are being controlled by someone else

Confused Thinking

Sometimes when someone has psychosis, they can feel that their thinking is ‘messed up’ or confused.

They may find it hard to:

  • Remember things
  • Follow conversations
  • Some people find that their ideas may get jumbled when they speak, so that others find it hard to follow what they are saying.
  • People might appear as if their thinking is speeded up or slowed down.

Negative Symptoms

Loosing some experiences, generally meaning life is less enjoyable.

Sometimes people with psychosis may lose energy and motivation or they may lose some of the everyday skills that they had before they became ill.

They may:

  • Lose interest in some of the activities they once enjoyed
  • Find it harder to enjoy themselves
  • Find it hard to get up in the morning and to get themselves washed and dressed
  • Feel that they have lost their emotions
  • They may feel that their thoughts become very fixed and they find it hard to change their mind

Mood Symptoms

Sometimes people with psychosis can find that it effects their mood, they may have odd feelings that don’t fit, or feel that their emotions are mixed up – like feeling stressed and afraid when everyone else is relaxed. They may feel very down (depressed) or high (manic)

It’s normal to have ups and downs in life – but sometimes with psychosis these feelings can become exaggerated and overwhelming.  When people feel depressed they may lose energy, and feel hopeless, whilst someone who is manic can feel great or a little irritable.

They may talk too fast & feel that their thoughts are speeded up.  They also may display quite dis-inhibited behaviour.

Types of psychosis

When someone has psychosis it is important to diagnose the particular psychotic illness.

This will depend on factors such as what triggered the illness and how long the symptoms last; this may be difficult in first-episode psychosis as the factors underlying the illness may be unclear.

Diagnostic Labels

Drug-Induced Psychosis:

Using or withdrawing from drugs such as cannabis, LSD, cocaine, inhalants or alcohol can lead to a psychotic experience.  Sometimes these symptoms will disappear as the substance wears off.  In other cases, the illness may last longer, but start after using drugs.

Organic Psychosis:

Psychotic symptoms may appear after a head injury or a physical illness that disrupts the brain functioning such as encephalitis (water in the brain), AIDS or a tumour.  There are usually other symptoms present such as memory problems or confusion.

Brief reactive psychosis:

Psychotic symptoms may arise suddenly in response to a major stress in someone’s life, such as death in the family.  Symptoms can be severe, but the person is expected to make a quick recovery in only a few days.


Schizophrenia refers to an illness in which the change in behaviour or symptoms have been present for at least 1 month.  The severity and duration of the illness will vary from person to person.  It is important to know that many people with schizophrenia recover and lead happy and fulfilling lives.

Bipolar disorder:

It can be that some people may have episodes of mania (when they are manic) and episodes of depression, this used to be referred to as Manic Depression. It is now more commonly referred to as bipolar disorder

Why do some people get psychosis?

This is a really good question, and the truth is nobody really knows the answer just yet. We do know there is a genetic component to it; someone with a close relative who has psychosis has a higher chance of getting the problem themselves. However, psychosis is not only caused by genes. It seems that some people have a vulnerability to stress which can cause them to develop psychosis.

Possible triggers for a psychotic episode:

  • Taking drugs, such as cannabis
  • Stress such as breaking up with a boyfriend/girlfriend
  • Not eating and sleeping properly
  • Problems with family or friends
  • Bullying or other frightening experiences
  • Pressure at school or college
  • Stress caused by being harassed because of race, religion etc
  • Worries about sexuality

If you would like to find out further information about Psychosis please visit Mind or NHS Choices

The information above includes information from Mind and NHS choices. Mind and NHS Choices are both certified members of the 'Information Standard' and therefore are commited to providing health and care information you can trust.

This page was updated in January 2019 and all information will be reviewed in September 2019.