Psychosis: Warning signs, treatments & getting help

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Psychosis is a mental health condition. It causes people to have difficulty telling the difference between what’s real and what isn’t.

Psychosis is often diagnosed during the teen years and early adulthood. The most well-known type of psychosis is schizophrenia, but there are other types too. The sooner someone receives treatment, the more effective it is.

What is psychosis?

People experiencing psychosis have difficulty telling the difference between what’s real and what’s only in their minds.

Early warning signs of psychosis

Early signs that may indicate the onset of psychosis include:

  • depression, anxiety or mood swings
  • unusual thoughts or perceptions (odd ideas, feeling like others are “different,” or feeling like everyday things or experiences have a different, darker or more significant meaning)
  • spending less time with friends and other people
  • unusual sensory experiences (for example, colours appearing different or more intense)
  • difficulty organizing or expressing thoughts
  • difficulty concentrating
  • suspiciousness, irritability or aggression
  • problems with sleeping or eating
  • loss of usual interests or motivation to do things

Signs of active psychosis

Signs that you may be experiencing psychosis include:

  • hallucinations (hearing voices, seeing things that aren’t there, feeling strange sensations)
  • delusions (false and often unusual beliefs about yourself or the world that you believe are true)
  • paranoia (feelings of being watched, talked about or plotted against)
  • behaviours or reactions that don’t make sense to others
  • personality changes
  • changes in emotion (feeling “flat” or emotionless, inappropriate reactions like laughing for no apparent reason, anger, irritability)
  • problems with memory, concentration, problem solving and judgment
  • loss of usual interests or motivation to do things

Who is at risk for psychosis?

Anyone can develop psychosis. In fact, three in every 100 people will experience psychosis. Psychosis is most often diagnosed in late adolescence and early adulthood. Some things that put people at a greater risk include:

  • Family history: people with family members who have had psychotic disorders have a slightly higher risk.
  • Drug use: some drugs, including hallucinogens and marijuana, can cause temporary psychosis-like symptoms. Also, using drugs, like marijuana, can sometimes trigger underlying disorders (including psychosis).
  • Extreme stress: stressful or traumatic events may trigger psychosis in people who are predisposed to psychosis.

How is psychosis treated?

Psychosis is treatable. The sooner someone who is experiencing psychosis is diagnosed and receives treatment, the more effective it is.

Here are some things to know about treating psychosis:

  • The most common treatment is a combination of medication and therapy. People with psychosis often stay on medication throughout their lives to manage their symptoms. Therapy can help people understand their condition, care for themselves and cope with their symptoms.
  • While some people with psychosis are disabled by their symptoms and need support throughout their lives, many are able to manage their symptoms with treatment. Some people only experience symptoms for a short period of time and never again.

Asking for help with psychosis

If you’re experiencing mood changes or other troubling symptoms, it can be tempting to try to diagnose yourself by looking at information online. No website can replace talking to a doctor or mental health professional. Many of the symptoms of psychosis can also be signs of other things. Your doctor will be able to clarify what you’re experiencing.

Is the thought of getting help scary? Talk to a Kids Help Phone counsellor about it at 1-800-668-6868.

Living with psychosis

If you’ve been diagnosed with psychosis, you’re probably wondering how it will affect your life. Your condition can be challenging, but many young people with psychosis are able to manage their disorder and have full and meaningful lives.

You may find it easier to cope with psychosis if you:

  • Talk to your mental health care team. If you’ve been diagnosed with psychosis, you may have questions like, “How long will I have to take medication?” “What are the side effects?” “How can I cope in the long run?” Talking to your mental health specialist will help you better understand your condition.
  • Keep track of how you’re feeling. If you’re receiving treatment, you’re probably feeling much clearer than you were before. You may still experience symptoms or unpleasant side effects of your medication. (Try taking notes in a journal and bringing it with you to see your doctor.) It’s OK to feel scared, frustrated or angry about what you’re going through. Try to stay aware of your feelings without judging yourself.
  • Take care of yourself. Relaxing, getting enough sleep, eating well and exercising are especially important for people experiencing psychosis or other health challenges. Keeping your body healthy will help your medication work better and you’ll experience fewer side effects.
  • Connect with others. Not everyone understands psychosis or is kind to people with mental health issues. That’s why it’s important to surround yourself with people who care about you and support your recovery. It can also be helpful to connect with other young people with similar experiences. Ask your mental health care provider to introduce you to support groups or programs that may be a good fit for you. You can also call Kids Help Phone — we’re here to help.
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