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Schizophrenia and psychotic disorders

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“I started to hear voices and messages on the radio and television, and also through the newspaper. The delusion was completely real to me.”

– Jackie

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 managing a home. 

People with psychosis often have hallucinations. This involves 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 an 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 many 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 other disorders, such as epilepsy or bipolar disorder. Psychotic episodes can be caused by some drugs as well. Violence is not a symptom of psychotic illnesses. 

People with severe forms of psychosis can live fulfilling lives. Some need long-term support to achieve this. Others mainly need help when symptoms are worse, and some don’t need much support at all. 

To find out if you might have a psychotic disorder, it's important to have an assessment with a clinical psychologist or a psychiatrist. 

Living with a mental health condition can be challenging, but you are never alone. It’s important to take the first steps in getting support.  

Learn more about finding help.

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. You can use the National Health Services Directory to find a health professional near you.

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.


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.


Looking after yourself

While caring for someone is rewarding, it can be physically and emotionally challenging. Don’t forget to take some time to look after your own mental health and wellbeing.

Find out more about looking after yourself while caring for someone else.