“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 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.
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.
A closer look
Psychosis distorts your sense of reality, changing perceptions and behaviour
Around 1 in 10 people have had a hallucination at some time in their lives, but only 1 in 100 Australians will develop psychosis. If you have an odd experience, there is no need to panic. Check if others are sharing the experience, and look at things like sleep and drug use that could be causing them. If they keep happening, it can help to speak with someone you trust about them. (Source)
People with schizophrenia have only one personality
Despite what you may have seen in movies, people diagnosed with schizophrenia do not have a ‘split personality’. It can be helpful to talk to people with similar experiences. You are not alone; there are forums where you can learn from people who may have experienced what you are experiencing. (Source 1) (Source 2)
People with schizophrenia see faces differently
People with schizophrenia may find it more difficult to recognise emotion in faces, particularly emotions such as fear or surprise. People with schizophrenia can learn to recognise emotion in faces better, and this may improve their ability to interact with others. Programs, apps, and online courses can also help manage symptoms of schizophrenia. (Source 1) (Source 2)
Psychosis requires professional help
In Australia, around 64,000 people have psychosis and are in contact with public mental health services (4.5 per 1000 people). More males than females have psychosis, and most have their first episode of psychosis in their late teens or early adulthood. Around the world, 7 out of every 1000 people have schizophrenia at some point in their lives. Help can initially come from a GP or a mental health professional. (Source 1) (Source 2)
Psychosis can cause extremely low motivation
Psychosis and its symptoms can make it more difficult for someone to translate thoughts into actions. They might become very tired as a result, and tasks that seem simple to most people may be extreme hurdles for them. Some people with psychosis may need professional help to manage symptoms and make life easier. (Source)
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.
You might find online and phone-based mental health resources helpful. Some suggestions are below. You can find more with our Search tool (opens in a new tab).