Psychosis is a mental disorder where thoughts and emotions are impaired to the point that a person has, in some ways, lost touch with reality. People with psychosis have a range of symptoms that can be disabling. These include:

  • Delusions: Delusions are things that someone firmly believes, but that are not true. For example, a person with psychosis may believe they are famous when they are not.
  • Hallucinations: Hallucinations involve senses. They are experiences that feel very real but are not. The most common hallucinations involve hearing voices.
  • Thought disorder: People with psychosis often have disorganised thinking. They may have trouble speaking in a way that makes sense to other people.
  • Distress and mood changes: Psychosis can be very frightening, and people are often upset with what is happening to them. They may be sad or irritable.
  • Social withdrawal is common as the person feels overwhelmed dealing with the symptoms. They may find it too stressful to do daily activities.
  • Psychosis can be the main problem a person has, or it can be part of other illnesses, such as bipolar disorder or depression. When it is the main problem, it is often schizophrenia.

The experience of psychosis is different for each person. People may have a small or large number of psychotic symptoms, and symptoms can often start slowly, over several months, but can also come on quickly, over days to weeks.

Family and friends may also be frightened by the symptoms and the changes in their loved one. It’s best to have the person assessed as quickly as possible. Family physicians can do this, but if it seems like the person wants to hurt themselves or others, this is a medical emergency. They should go to the hospital. If there is immediate risk, call the police. Police have the power to bring the person to a hospital and have training to respond in these circumstances.

It is important to remember that most people with psychosis are not dangerous to others. The bigger risk is of them hurting themselves if they see no way out.

If a loved one is having symptoms of psychosis, try to approach them in a calm manner and listen to them. Trying to talk them out of believing what they are experiencing doesn’t usually work and can make things worse.

Psychosis is treatable. The sooner a person receives treatment, the quicker they will have relief from their distressing symptoms.

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