“I started to hear voices and messages on the radio and television, and also through the newspaper. The delusion was completely real to me.”
A psychotic disorder involves a disconnection from reality. Psychosis is a group of related symptoms that seriously affect how you think, feel, and behave.
Experiencing symptoms of psychotic disorders can lead to confusion and feeling misunderstood. Psychotic episodes, and the feelings that come with them, can get in the way of work, relating to family and friends, studying, and maintaining a household.
People with psychosis often experience hallucinations. These involve seeing or hearing things that seem very real, but others cannot sense. Some people may have delusions - strongly held beliefs that aren't true, like being spied on, or being famous. Psychosis can be a short, one-off event with a very obvious trigger, such as distressing experiences or substance misuse. For other people it can be a longer lasting challenge, and have no obvious trigger.
The most common and well known psychotic disorder is schizophrenia. There are several other mental illnesses that have psychosis as their core symptom, such as brief psychotic disorder and schizoaffective disorder. However, people can also experience psychosis as part of another disorder, such as epilepsy or bipolar disorder - and psychotic episodes can be caused by some drugs. Violence is not a symptom of psychotic illnesses.
Even people with severe forms of psychosis can live fulfilling and meaningful lives. Some need long-term support to achieve this. Others mainly need help when symptoms are worse, and some need little ongoing support at all.
To find out if you are experiencing a psychotic disorder, it’s important to have an assessment with a clinical psychologist or a psychiatrist.
Taking action for change
You can come up with an individual treatment and support plan with the help of your GP and specialist mental health professionals, such as psychiatrists or mental health caseworkers. Involving your family as well can be helpful.
Often your plan will include medications, such as antipsychotic medication. It’s a good idea to let your doctor know whether you think medication is working for you and if you experience any side effects.
Counselling can help you manage mental illness and teach skills to notice and try to stop the things that might trigger your psychosis - such as stress or other intense feelings like anxiety, anger or sadness. Talk therapy such as Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) can help you identify and change unhelpful thoughts and behaviour. Learning relaxation and stress reduction techniques can help prevent new psychosis in the future.
Life skills programs can help you learn how to improve relationships with important people in your life, or learn useful skills for home, working, or studying. Healthy lifestyle coaching to quit smoking, lessen drug and alcohol intake, as well as exercise and improving your diet can make you feel better physically and emotionally.
A closer look
Psychosis distorts your sense of reality, changing perceptions and behaviour
People with schizophrenia have only one personality
People with schizophrenia see faces differently
Psychosis requires professional help
Psychosis can cause extremely low motivation
Helping someone with this condition
People with psychosis may need emotional support to deal with unwanted symptoms. It helps to keep in touch with friends and family and continue activities they enjoy, or try new ones. For a first episode of psychosis, family support may be recommended to help family members know how to support the person.
They may also need practical support in accessing medical care and disability services. Be aware that people with psychosis may have difficulties in communicating. Some may show unusual physical gestures, or a lack of emotional expression.
In supporting someone else, it is important to look after yourself as well. You can find information on maintaining your wellbeing on our meaningful life pages. You can also find information on caring for someone with a mental health condition on our support for carers page.
It was so confusing and scary when I first got ill, especially as it happened quite quickly for me. One day I was well, and the next I just felt really strange. I remember saying to my mum before I was diagnosed, that it felt like my brain wasn’t connecting to my thoughts. We saw a doctor soon after that.
My daughter has an excellent care team. All three of them speak to each other and they all speak with me too. She trusts them, which has been one of the most important things.
When my wife was psychotic, she believed other people were imposters, that World War 3 had broken out, and other bizarre delusions. Even voices telling her to harm herself. Thank goodness, she’s always had the insight to recognise that these thoughts are caused by the illness and aren't true. It's an enormous help at these times that she always trusts me and her doctor.