Psychosis is a mental health problem that causes people to perceive or interpret things differently from those around them. This might involve hallucinations or delusions.

This page covers:

Symptoms

When to seek medical advice

Getting help for others

Causes

Treatment

Complications

Symptoms of psychosis

The two main symptoms of psychosis are:

  • hallucinations – where a person hears, sees and, in some cases, feels, smells or tastes things that aren't there; a common hallucination is hearing voices
  • delusions – where a person has strong beliefs that aren't shared by others; a common delusion is someone believing there is a conspiracy to harm them

The combination of hallucinations and delusional thinking can cause severe distress and a change in behaviour.

Experiencing the symptoms of psychosis is often referred to as having a psychotic episode.

Read about the symptoms of psychosis.

When to seek medical advice

You should see your GP immediately if you're experiencing symptoms of psychosis. It's important psychosis is treated as soon as possible, as early treatment can be more effective.

Your GP may ask you some questions to help determine what's causing your psychosis. They should also refer you to a mental health specialist for further assessment and treatment.

Read more about diagnosing psychosis.

Getting help for others

If you're concerned about someone you know, you could contact their GP. If they're receiving support from a mental health service, you could contact their mental health worker.

If you think the person's symptoms are placing them at possible risk of harm, you can:

A number of mental health helplines are also available, which can offer expert advice.

Read more about how to get help for others.

Causes of psychosis

It's sometimes possible to identify the cause of psychosis as 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 low mood (depression) and highs or elated mood (mania)
  • severe depression – some people with depression also have symptoms of psychosis when they're very depressed

Psychosis can also be triggered by:

How often a psychotic episode occurs and how long it lasts can depend on the underlying cause.

Read about the causes of psychosis.

Treating psychosis

Treatment for psychosis involves using a combination of:

  • antipsychotic medication – which can help relieve the symptoms of psychosis
  • psychological therapies – the one-to-one talking therapy cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) has proved successful in helping people with psychosis; Family interventions (a form of therapy that may involve partners, family members and close friends) have been shown to reduce the need for hospital treatment in people with psychosis
  • social support – support with social needs, such as education, employment, or accommodation

After an episode of psychosis, most people who get better with medication need to continue taking it for at least a year. Around 50% of people need to take long-term medication to prevent symptoms recurring.

If a person's psychotic episodes are severe, they may need to be admitted to a psychiatric hospital for treatment.

Read about treating psychosis.

Complications of psychosis

People with a history of psychosis are more likely than others to have drug or alcohol misuse problems, or both.

Some people use these substances as a way of managing psychotic symptoms. However, substance abuse can make psychotic symptoms worse or cause other problems.

Self-harm and suicide

People with psychosis have a higher than average risk of self-harm and suicide.

See your GP if you're self-harming. You can also call the Samaritans, free of charge, on 116 123 for support. The mental health charity Mind also has some useful information and advice.

If you think a friend or relative is self-harming, look out for signs of unexplained cuts, bruises or cigarette burns, usually on the wrists, arms, thighs, and chest. People who self-harm may keep themselves covered up at all times, even in hot weather. 

Read more about:

If you're feeling suicidal, you can:

Read more about:

Psychosis: Sarah's story

Sarah, 19, describes her experience of psychosis. Find out how early help from local services can help young people who live with mental illness.

Media last reviewed: 22/04/2015

Next review due: 22/04/2017

Page last reviewed: 23/12/2016

Next review due: 23/12/2019