What is Psychosis?

Psychosis describes experiencing a reality that is different to other people. Common examples of psychosis include hearing voices, seeing people that aren’t there or believing that someone is trying to harm you. For many, these psychotic experiences can be highly distressing and disruptive. Psychosis can interfere with people’s everyday lives, including relationships and work.

Psychosis can be a one-off experience; or a succession of frequent psychotic episodes. The latter can be diagnosed as a psychotic illness, such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.

Psychotic episodes are treatable and sufferers can often make a complete recovery. Therefore, it is important to seek professional treatment and support for psychosis. 

Signs and symptoms of psychosis

Psychosis and/or psychotic episodes will be experienced by everyone differently. 

Some of the most common signs and symptoms of psychosis are:

  • Hallucinations – When someone sees, hears, smells, tastes or feels things that do not exist outside their mind. 
  • Delusions – When someone has an unshakeable belief in something that is not true
  • Confused and/or disturbing thoughts – Including rapid speech, switching from one topic to another mid-sentence or losing train of thought 

What causes psychosis?

Psychosis can be a cause of a psychological condition, a general medical condition, or behavioural causes. 

Psychological causes of psychosis:

Medical causes of psychosis:

  • Malaria
  • Syphilis 
  • Alzheimer’s disease 
  • Parkinson’s disease 

Behavioural causes of psychosis:

  • Drug or alcohol abuse – A psychotic episode can occur as a withdrawal symptom if a long-term drug or alcohol user suddenly stops drinking alcohol or taking drugs. Additionally, some drugs can trigger a psychotic episode. Known drugs to trigger psychosis include cocaine, amphetamine (speed), methamphetamine (crystal meth), MDMA (ecstasy), LSD (acid), psilocybin (magic mushrooms), ketamine and cannabis.

Treatment for psychosis

Nightingale Hospital London has a number of consultant psychiatrists and therapists that can help you through your psychosis. Our treatments for psychosis can be as an outpatient, day patient or inpatient. We have the expertise to approach the support and psychosis treatment we offer you in a personal and flexible way to benefit you the most in your recovery.

Our approach to treating psychosis combines individualised treatment programmes with treatments based on current clinical evidence. Through therapy, medication and alternative approaches such as meditation, relaxation, arts therapies, sleep therapy and physical therapies we aim to give you the knowledge and coping skills for dealing with your psychosis effectively.

Treatment for psychosis can be offered in some of the following forms:

  • Counselling allows you to talk about your psychotic experiences and ways of coming to terms with them
  • Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) can put your experiences in context, help you to understand them and test your beliefs about them.
  • Psychodynamic psychotherapy looks in more depth to try and identify unconscious and subconscious reasons behind your psychosis.
  • Art therapy may help you to express how you are feeling if you are having difficulty talking, drama therapy may help you to come to terms with traumatic events that you may have experienced through your psychosis in the past and family therapy can help you and your family cope better.
  • Antipsychotic medication can weaken delusions and hallucinations and also help you think more clearly. The aim should be to help reduce psychotic symptoms by using the lowest possible dose for the shortest possible time. Medication may not stop you from experiencing the symptoms of psychosis, but it may make you feel calmer and less troubled by them.
  • If your psychosis is associated with severe depression, you are likely to be treated with antidepressants, and if your diagnosis is a bipolar disorder you may be given a mood stabilising drug. Both of these types of medication may be combined with an antipsychotic.

What can family and friends do to help?

Seeing someone you care about experiencing a psychotic episode can be distressing and even frightening. You may find it helpful to discuss your feelings and concerns with someone else, such as a counsellor or to join a support group, such as those provided by charities such as Mind or Rethink.

If you feel your friend or relative’s health is deteriorating rapidly suggest they:

  • Use their crisis plan
  • Seek help from their GP
  • Seek help from the duty psychiatrist in a hospital A&E

If the person doesn’t seek help, and you think they are putting themselves or others at risk, their ‘nearest relative’ (as defined under the Mental Health Act 1983) can ask for a mental health assessment to be carried out. Under the MHA, they can be compulsorily detained in the hospital for further assessment and treatment if necessary.

Useful resources 

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