What is psychosis?

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Image credit: Anant Nath Sharma

From hearing voices, to a delusion that you can control the weather, psychosis can take many forms.

Psychosis: it means to see, or interpret reality in a very different way to those around you. There are three common types.

Firstly, you may have hallucinations, where you hear voices talking to you, or see things that no-one else can see. Secondly, you can experience delusions. From believing that you are a famous figure from history, or that you have supernatural powers, to irrational fears that someone is following you, or that a member of your family has been taken over by alien forces, delusions take many forms. Lastly, you can have very disordered thoughts or speech (this includes racing thoughts, jumping from one topic to the next rapidly or ‘word salad’ where your words come out in a jumble, but don’t make much sense).

Who might experience psychosis? Well, it can be a symptom of a number of mental health conditions, including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and even severe depression. In the weeks and months after giving birth, a small number of women (about 1 in 1,000) also suffer from a condition called post partum psychosis.

But it’s not just those with specific mental health conditions who experience psychosis. Substance abuse – particularly of cannabis and LSD – can lead to psychotic episodes. It can also be triggered by highly traumatic events, such as abuse or bereavement, or even by severe hunger or lack of sleep. Some physical illnesses, such as strokes, head injuries, thyroid and adrenal diseases can also result in psychotic episodes.

Some people will only have one psychotic episode in their life – others many more, but there are lots of treatments available, from antipsychotic drugs, to talking therapies that help you develop coping strategies. 

Philippa Garety from the mental health Trust SLaM explains more in this video, and there is more information and advice available from the charity Mind.