Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board
North Wales Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service
The word “psychosis” is used to describe conditions that affect the mind, where there has been some loss of contact with reality.
Psychosis can cause someone to misinterpret or confuse what is going on around them. When someone becomes unwell in this way it is called a “psychotic episode”. An episode is a period of time when someone is having symptoms of psychosis that interferes with day to day life.
Psychosis is most likely to occur in late adolescence or in early adult years.
Most people fully recover from psychosis, it can happen to anyone and it can be treated.
What are the symptoms of psychosis?
Early signs vary from person to person. They can be vague and hardly noticeable. There may be changes in how you might describe your thoughts, feelings and perceptions. The important thing to look for is if these changes get worse or do not go away.
Some of the symptoms are listed below:
How common is psychosis?
Psychosis is most likely to occur in young people - around 3 in every 100 young people (more common than diabetes!) Everyone has some tendency to experience psychotic like experiences or even psychosis, just as everyone has the potential to become anxious or depressed. If you notice any of the above symptoms it is really important to speak to someone you trust.
We know that the earlier someone receives help for their symptoms; they are to recover more quickly, and can therefore carry on, without too much disruption to everyday life.
What Causes Psychosis?
There is no single cause of psychosis. Researchers believe that psychosis is caused by a combination of inherited biological factors that make someone more vulnerable (more likely) to experience psychotic symptoms. These symptoms can also happen in response to stress, drug use or social changes, but again it is different for different people.
What mental illnesses are associated with psychosis?
Many people assume that experiencing psychosis equals a diagnosis of schizophrenia. However many different conditions are linked with psychosis.
Everyone’s experience of psychosis is different and attaching a specific name or label to the psychotic episode is not always useful in the early stages. Sometimes, though, giving a diagnosis can be helpful in knowing what treatment to provide.
When someone has psychosis a diagnosis of a particular illness may be given. Diagnosis means identification of an illness by a person’s symptoms, and the diagnosis will depend on what brought on the illness and how long the symptoms last.
Below are some of the diagnoses linked with psychosis:
Using or withdrawing from alcohol or drugs can lead to psychotic symptoms.
Sometimes these symptoms will rapidly disappear as the effects of the drugs/alcohol wears off. In other cases, the illness may last longer.
Brief Reactive Psychosis
Psychotic symptoms arise suddenly in response to a major stress in the person’s life, such as a death in the family, change of living situation or exam stress.
The person makes a quick recovery in only a few days.
Refers to a psychotic illness in which the changes in behaviour or symptoms have been continuing for a period of at least 6 months.
Someone usually experiences changes in mood by having extreme highs (mania) or lows (depression). People with bipolar may also develop psychotic symptoms when in the high or low mood phases.
This diagnosis is made when the person has symptoms of both a mood disorder (such as depression or mania) and psychosis. In other words the picture is not typical of a mood disorder or schizophrenia.
What can you do as a young person who may be experiencing psychosis?
Getting help as soon as possible is the right thing to do!
Tell someone you trust such as a parent, teacher or friend if you are having some strange experiences you cannot explain.
Treatment for psychosis is available and the earlier you seek help, the better the outcome and the quicker the recovery.
You may need to see your GP to talk about your concerns. They can then refer you to your local Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) who can offer more specialist help.
If you have a school counsellor / nurse or learning mentor, they can also be a useful person to talk to and may also be able to refer you to the local Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services
Treatment for psychosis can involve:
There are ways of trying to prevent symptoms of psychosis returning such as not using drugs, reducing stress and adopting good ways of coping with stress. You could start by checking out our Your Mental Health / Building your Resilience page which may give you some tips on how to get better at coping with stress.
What can you do to help a young person with psychosis?
Sometimes young people are reluctant to seek help for their symptoms at first, they may not realise they are unwell, be worried about how people may react, or feel their experiences are very personal to them.