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Psychosis: What you need to know

The signs, the symptoms and the supports available


Written by SpunOut | View this authors Twitter page and posted in health


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Psychosis is a common mental illness that can affect absolutely anyone. It's thought that one in every 200 people will deal with psychosis at some stage in their lives.

Signs and symptoms

Everybody experiences psychosis in a different way but there are some common symptoms that can occur during an episode. Not everyone will have all of the symptoms below; they may have just one or two.

  • False Beliefs: A person may have strong beliefs or ideas that are not real to others. No matter what you say to try to show them their ideas are not real; these ideas are fixed in their mind and the person has difficulty believing they are fake. Some examples of this are people believing they have extraordinary powers, thinking they are being followed or that they are being communicated with through TV or the radio.
  • Hallucinations: Hallucinations involve the five senses and affect the way in which a person interprets the world around them.  A person may see, hear, taste, smell and feel things that simply aren't there. These experiences seem so real that they have difficulty believing otherwise.
  • Confused Thinking: When a person experiences psychosis their thoughts can become confused and muddled up. It can be difficult to have a conversation with someone when this is happening because their speech can be confused and disorganised. Sometimes the person feels as though their thoughts are racing or that they are slowed down in some way.
  • Changed Behaviour: It is often the changes in people’s behaviour that draws attention to the fact that they are unwell. The person may have difficulty performing usual activities like schoolwork, work or hobbies.
  • They may become more socially withdrawn or isolated. Sometimes the person may behave in an unusual manner; if they believe they are being followed they may act suspiciously or seem to be frightened; if they are hearing voices they may seem to be talking to people that aren't there.
  • Psychosis can be treated. The earlier you receive treatment the better. Your GP will know how to help.

What are the phases of psychosis?

Psychosis usually develops gradually over a period of time. It can strike suddenly but this is not common.

Phase One: Early Warning Phase
Early adulthood is a time of change for everyone so it can be difficult to recognise the difference between changes that are happening during normal development and changes that occur because of psychosis developing.

However, there are common early warning signs that may happen before a first episode of psychosis. These changes may last for months but not everyone will experience all of the following signs:

  • Reduced concentration
  • Decreased motivation
  • Depressed mood
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Anxiety
  • Social withdrawal
  • Suspiciousness
  • Deterioration in functioning
  • Withdrawal from family and friends
  • Odd beliefs/magical thinking

Phase Two: Acute Phase
The acute phase is when the symptoms of psychosis begin to emerge and it is also known as the “critical period”. 

During this phase the person experiencing psychosis can become extremely upset about what is happening to them. They may behave in a manner that is so out of character that family members can become extremely concerned and may start to seek help.

Before this stage the individual may have been experiencing a more gradual decline.

Phase Three: Recovery Phase
With effective treatment most people will recover from their first episode of psychosis and may never have another episode.

Can it be treated?

  • Psychosis can most definitely be treated successfully if people get help early. The earlier people get help the better the outcome.
  • If help is sought early, an individual may never suffer another episode
  • Some people who develop psychosis may need ongoing support and treatment throughout their lives.
  • Initially, some of the symptoms that are apparent in the acute phase may linger in the recovery phase but with appropriate treatment most people successfully recover and return to their normal, everyday lives
  • If you are concerned that a family member or a loved one is experiencing psychosis, please consult your GP who will know how to help.
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Published December 20th, 2012
Last updated November 12th, 2017
Tags psychosis mental health wellbeing
Can this be improved? Contact editor@spunout.ie if you have any suggestions for this article.

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