Psychosis - Symptoms 

Symptoms of psychosis  

Psychosis isn't a condition in itself but it's often triggered by mental health conditions such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder  

Psychosis isn't the same as psychopath

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

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

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

  • lack the capacity for empathy (understanding 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. However, most people with psychosis are more likely to harm themselves than others.

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

However, four main symptoms are associated with a psychotic episode. They are:

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

These are outlined in more detail below.

Hallucinations

Hallucinations are where a person perceives something that doesn't exist in reality. They can occur in all five of the senses:  

  • sight  someone with psychosis may see colours and shapes, or people or animals that aren't there
  • sounds  someone with psychosis may hear voices that are angry, unpleasant or sarcastic
  • touch  a common psychotic hallucination is that you are being touched when there is no-one there
  • smell  usually a strange or unpleasant odour
  • taste  some people with psychosis have complained of having a constant unpleasant taste in their mouth

Delusions

A delusion is where a person has an unshakeable belief in something implausible, bizarre or obviously untrue.

Paranoid delusion and delusions of grandeur are two examples of psychotic delusions.

A person with psychosis will often believe that an individual or organisation is making plans to hurt or kill them. This can lead to unusual behaviour.

For example, a person with psychosis may refuse to be in the same room as a mobile phone because they believe they are mind-control devices.

Someone with psychosis may also have delusions of grandeur. This is where they believe they have some imaginary power or authority.

For example, they may think that they're the president of a country or that they have the power to bring people back from the dead.

Confused and disturbed thoughts

People with psychosis often have disturbed, confused and disrupted patterns of thought.

Signs of this include:

  • rapid and constant speech
  • random 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 totally unaware their behaviour is in any way strange, or that their delusions or hallucinations are not real.

They may recognise delusional or bizarre behaviour in others, but lack the self-awareness to recognise it in themselves.

For example, a person with psychosis being treated in a psychiatric ward may complain that their fellow patients are mentally unwell, while they're perfectly normal.

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 that 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 (see above), symptoms of postnatal psychosis can also include:

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

Postnatal psychosis is regarded as a medical emergency. Contact your GP immediately if you think that 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 a danger of imminent harm, call 999 and ask for an ambulance.

Page last reviewed: 31/07/2014

Next review due: 31/07/2016

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