Psychosis is a mental health problem that causes people to perceive or interpret things differently from those around them. It is a generic psychiatric term for a mental state often described as involving a “loss of contact with reality”.
The two main symptoms of psychosis are:
- hallucinations – where a person hears, sees and, in some cases, feels, smells or tastes things that are not there; a common hallucination is hearing voices
- delusions – where a person believes things that, when examined rationally, are obviously untrue, for example, thinking your next door neighbour is planning to kill you
The combination of hallucinations and delusional thinking can often severely disrupt perception, thinking, emotion and actions. People experiencing psychosis may exhibit personality changes and thought disorder and depending on its severity, unusual or bizarre behaviour.
Experiencing the symptoms of psychosis is often referred to as having a psychotic episode. How often a psychotic episode occurs and how long it lasts can depend on the underlying cause. For example, schizophrenia can be long-term, but most people can make a good recovery, and about a quarter only have a single psychotic episode. Episodes related to bipolar disorder usually resolve more quickly but may reoccur.
How does Psychosis develop?
Psychosis is not a condition in itself. It is triggered by other conditions. In some instances, the cause of psychosis may relate to a specific mental health condition, such as:
- schizophrenia – a condition that causes a range of psychological symptoms, including hallucinations and delusions
- bipolar disorder – a mental health condition that affects mood; a person with bipolar disorder can have episodes of depression (lows) and mania (highs)
- severe depression – some people with depression also have symptoms of psychosis when they are very depressed
Psychosis can also be triggered by traumatic experiences, stress or physical conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease, a brain tumour, or as a result of drug misuse or alcohol misuse.
Read more about the causes of psychosis.