What is Psychosis?

Psychosis is the term commonly used for a range of psychological symptoms that affect a person’s perception of reality. Psychosis can cause a person’s thoughts and senses to become confused and disordered, resulting in delusional thoughts and hallucinations (seeing and hearing things that others cannot). 

Psychosis is usually experienced in relatively short periods, or ‘episodes’. During an episode, the symptoms become severe, impacting a person’s ability to differentiate what is real and what is not. In some cases, psychosis can affect people in the longer term, with no clear trigger or cause. 

During a psychotic episode, a person may display irregular or irrational behaviour, incoherent speech, extreme anxiety and suspicion of other people, social and emotional withdrawal. One of the most common myths surrounding psychosis is that psychotic episodes make people become violent. Violence is not a symptom of psychosis - a person being treated for psychosis is no more likely to display violent behaviour than anyone else. 

What are psychotic disorders?

A psychotic disorder is a specific type of psychosis. Psychotic disorders are based on the types of symptoms people experience and how long they experience them for. Sometimes a psychotic disorder will cause episodes which last a few days, whilst disorders such as schizophrenia can cause much longer lasting episodes.

How common is psychosis?

In Australia, each year about 1 in 200 people will experience a psychotic disorder. People live fulfilling lives with psychosis and can effectively manage symptoms with the help of mental health professionals.

What causes psychosis? 

The causes and triggers of psychosis are still being investigated by medical researchers. It is thought that a range of factors may contribute, or combine, when a person develops a psychotic disorder. 

Factors which are believed to contribute to psychosis include: 

  • A family history of psychosis
  • Chemical imbalances in the brain
  • Life experiences (e.g. trauma)
  • Substance use 
  • Medical conditions including brain tumours, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and stroke 

Research on the causes of psychosis is ongoing, but psychosis is treatable. The key is accessing the right support, as early as possible. People who experience psychosis can recover if they receive appropriate treatment, medicine and support.  

When should I seek help?

Getting help early is very important for people experiencing symptoms of psychosis. Intervening early reduces the chances of developing long term psychotic disorders. 

If you answer ‘yes’ to any of the following questions, you should seek professional assistance: 

  • Have you experienced hallucinations or delusions? 
  • Are your symptoms very distressing? 
  • Do they interfere with your home, work, study, relationships or social life? 
  • Do you use alcohol, tobacco or other drugs to cope? 
  • Have you thought about harming yourself or others? 

How are psychotic symptoms treated? 

Psychosis is usually treated by either psychological therapies, or medication.

If you are prescribed medication, it is very important to let your doctor know if you are currently using alcohol, tobacco or other drugs. These substances can interact with prescribed medication, which can cause unknown reactions and stop your medication from working as it should.  

TIPS FOR STAYING WELL

 

Recognise the early warning signs 

These may include difficulty in sleeping, increased feelings of anxiety, seeing or hearing things, and strange or unusual feelings that you are unable to explain. Taking action early can significantly help to reduce the risk of long-term psychosis.

FIND TIME FOR THE THINGS YOU ENJOY

Rest and relaxation will help you to stay well and enjoy life, eat healthy foods and maintain daily exercise. 

Allow yourself time to disconnect from your everyday thought patterns. Exercises in mindful listening and mindful movement can bring your attention inward and are often helpful in reducing negative thoughts. 

AVOID OR LIMIT ALCOHOL AND OTHER SUBSTANCES 

Using alcohol or other substances can intensify the responses to psychotic experiences resulting in heightened or prolonged effects. It is important to talk with your doctor about your alcohol and substance use if you have experienced a psychotic event, particularly if you are also taking prescribed medication.

Alcohol and other substances can interfere with the way prescription medicines work. In some cases this may cause unexpected negative reactions so it is important to share this information with your doctor. 

TECHNIQUES FOR STAYING WELL

There are techniques you can learn and apply that will help to ease the feelings of distress associated with psychotic experiences. The following techniques will provide the best results when applied over time, so don’t give up if you don’t start to feel results immediately. Staying well takes time and effort - practice these techniques regularly and often for the best results.  

Self soothing - This technique helps you to calm and relax yourself. By incorporating a strong focus on your sensory experience and thought patterns, over time you can develop strategies for remaining calm during stress.

Coping with cravings - Cravings are sometimes unavoidable and can be overwhelming if you don’t have a way to cope with them effectively. This resource will provide you with some techniques to shift your attention away from the cravings until the feeling subsides and you are able to carry on with your day. 

Mindful listening - these exercises help to become aware of your surrounding environment and tune in to the sensations you feel. In doing so, mindful listening can clear repetitive and unwanted thoughts that may be affecting your mood. 

 

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Where to get help

In an emergency, dial 000

Contact your local GP

Beyond Blue - 1300 22 4636

Find a service - eCliPSE Service Locator

Kids Helpline - 1800 55 1800

Lifeline  - 13 11 14

National Alcohol and Other Drug hotline - 1800 250 015

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