What is Psychosis?

Psychosis is an umbrella term used to describe symptoms that affect a person’s beliefs, thoughts, feelings, and behaviours. Psychosis can cause someone to misinterpret or confuse what is going on around them. For example, a person who is experiencing psychosis may hear voices others cannot hear – which can be distressing.

When someone becomes unwell in this way it is called a psychotic episode. An episode is a period of time when someone is experiencing symptoms that interferes with normal day to day life. These symptoms are different for everyone, below are examples of what an individual can experience.

Psychosis can happen to anyone and is most likely to occur in late adolescence or in the early adult years. What is important to note is that psychosis is treatable and that most people with the right treatment can recover from the experience.


There is indication that psychosis can be caused by a combination of biological factors that may make someone more vulnerable to experiencing psychotic symptoms, for example, if someone in your family has had psychosis.

These symptoms can also occur in response to social and psychological issues, including:

  • high levels of stress
  • adverse childhood experiences
  • drug / alcohol misuse
  • social changes in vulnerable individuals

This is known as the stress-vulnerability model. The cause of illness will be different for everyone and there is not always a clear reason as to why. If you would like more information regarding this please see our resources page for handouts.

75% of men and 66% of women experience their first episode of psychosis before the age of 35

Changed behaviour

A person may be extremely active or have difficulty getting the energy to do things. They may laugh when things don’t seem funny or become angry or upset without apparent cause.


A person may see, hear, feel, smell or taste something that is not actually there. For example, hearing voices that no one else can hear or seeing things that are not there.

Changed feelings

Mood swings are common, and they may feel unusually excited or depressed. A person may seem to feel less or show less emotion.


It is common for a person experiencing an episode to hold false beliefs. The person is so convinced of the delusion that the most logical argument cannot change their mind.

Confused thinking

A person may have difficulty concentrating, following a conversation, or remembering things. Thoughts can seem to speed up or slow down.

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