What Is Psychosis?

When you lose touch with reality and see, hear, or believe things that aren’t real, doctors call that psychosis.

You may have delusions. That means you hold on to untrue or strange beliefs. You might also have hallucinations. That’s when you imagine you hear or see something that doesn’t exist.

Psychosis is a symptom, not an illness. A mental or physical illness, substance abuse, or extreme stress or trauma can cause it.

Psychotic disorders, like schizophrenia, are mental illnesses that involve psychosis that usually happens for the first time in the late teen years or early adulthood. Young people are especially vulnerable for reasons doctors don’t fully understand.

What It's Like

You can’t tell the difference between what’s real and what’s not. Also, your speech might be unclear and your behavior disorganized.

You may have depression, anxiety, and sleep problems, too. It could be a struggle just to get through your day.

There are often warning signs leading up to psychosis. You may start to act differently. Your work or school performance could start to slip.

You might also feel paranoid, avoid others, have trouble expressing ideas, or slack off in your personal hygiene.

Causes

There are many. They include too little sleep, some prescription medications, and abuse of alcohol or drugs like marijuana and LSD.

Traumatic events, like the death of a loved one or a sexual assault, can lead to psychosis in people who are vulnerable to it. So can traumatic brain injuries, brain tumors, strokes, Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s disease.

Psychosis can also be a symptom of a mental illness, like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.

Diagnosis

You can see a psychologist, psychiatrist, or a social worker if you think you’ve had psychosis.

They’ll find out what might have caused it and uncover any related conditions. Doctors usually diagnose mental illnesses by ruling out other things that could be causing psychotic symptoms.

Treatment

It’s important to get treated early, after the first episode of psychosis. That will help keep the symptoms from affecting your relationships, work, or school. It may also help you avoid more problems down the road.

Continued

What your doctor recommends will depend on the cause of your psychosis. Medication and talk therapy are common solutions.

Your doctor may prescribe antipsychotic drugs -- in pills, liquids, or shots -- to lessen your symptoms.

You might need to get treated in a hospital if you’re at risk of harming yourself or others, or if you can't control your behavior or do your daily activities. Your doctor will check your symptoms, look for causes, and suggest the best treatment for you.

Some clinics and programs offer help just for young people.

Psychotherapy

Counseling can help manage psychosis.

Cognitive behavioral therapy can help you recognize when you have psychotic episodes. It also helps you know whether what you see and hear is real or imagined. This kind of therapy also stresses the importance of antipsychotic medications and sticking with your treatment.

Supportive psychotherapy helps you learn to live with psychosis. It reinforces healthy ways of thinking.

Cognitive enhancement therapy uses computer exercises and group work.

Family psychoeducation and support involves your loved ones. It helps you bond and improves the way you solve problems together.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Joseph Goldberg, MD on December 19, 2015

Sources

SOURCES:

National Alliance on Mental Health: “Psychosis.”

U.S. National Library of Medicine Medline Plus: “Psychotic Disorders.”

National Institute of Mental Health: “Recovery After an Initial Schizophrenia Episode (RAISE) Questions & Answers.”

Compton, M. and Broussard, B. The First Episode of Psychosis: A Guide for Patients and Their Families, published online 2009.

Cleveland Clinic: “Diseases and Conditions: Schizophrenia.”

National Institute of Mental Health: “What is Psychosis?”

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