Someone who develops psychosis will have their own unique set of symptoms and experiences, according to their particular circumstances.

But in general, four main symptoms are associated with a psychotic episode:

  • hallucinations
  • delusions
  • confused and disturbed thoughts
  • lack of insight and self-awareness

These are outlined in more detail below.

Hallucinations

Hallucinations are where someone sees, hears, smells, tastes or feels things that don't exist outside their mind.

  • sight – seeing colours, shapes or people
  • sounds – hearing voices or other sounds
  • touch – feeling touched when there is nobody there
  • smell – an odour that other people can't smell
  • taste – a taste when there is nothing in the mouth

Delusions

A delusion is where a person has an unshakeable belief in something untrue.

A person with persecutory delusions may believe an individual or organisation is making plans to hurt or kill them.

A person with grandiose delusions may believe they have power or authority. For example, they may think they're the president of a country or they have the power to bring people back from the dead.

Confused and disturbed thoughts

People with psychosis sometimes have disturbed, confused, and disrupted patterns of thought. Signs of this include:

  • rapid and constant speech
  • disturbed speech – for example, they may switch from one topic to another mid-sentence
  • a sudden loss in their train of thought, resulting in an abrupt pause in conversation or activity

Lack of insight

People who have psychotic episodes are often unaware that their delusions or hallucinations aren't real, which may lead them to feel frightened or distressed.

Postnatal psychosis

Postnatal psychosis, also called puerperal psychosis, is a severe form of postnatal depression, a type of depression some women experience after having a baby.

It's estimated postnatal psychosis affects around 1 in every 1,000 women who give birth. It most commonly occurs during the first few weeks after having a baby.

Postnatal psychosis is more likely to affect women who already have a mental health condition, such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia.

As well as the symptoms of psychosis, symptoms of postnatal psychosis can also include changes in mood:

  • a high mood (mania) – for example, feeling elated, talking and thinking too much or too quickly
  • a low mood – for example, feeling sad, a lack of energy, loss of appetite, and trouble sleeping

Contact your GP immediately if you think someone you know may have developed postnatal psychosis. If this isn't possible, call NHS 111 or your local out-of-hours service.

If you think there's an imminent danger of harm, call 999 and ask for an ambulance.

Psychosis isn't the same as psychopath

The terms "psychosis" and "psychopath" shouldn't be confused.

Someone with psychosis has a short-term (acute) condition that, if treated, can often lead to a full recovery.

A psychopath is someone with an anti-social personality disorder, which means they:

  • lack empathy – the capacity to understand how someone else feels
  • are manipulative
  • often have a total disregard for the consequences of their actions

People with an anti-social personality can sometimes pose a threat to others because they can be violent. Most people with psychosis are more likely to harm themselves than others.

Page last reviewed: 23/12/2016

Next review due: 23/12/2019