What is psychosis?
Young people often worry that they may be ‘going mad’ when they are feeling stressed, confused or very upset. In fact, worries like this are rarely a sign of mental illness. ‘Psychosis’ is when your thoughts are so disturbed that you lose touch with reality. This can be severe and distressing.
How common is it?
Psychosis affects people of all ages, but is rare before you reach the older teenage years.
What causes psychosis?
When you have a psychotic episode, it can be a sign of another underlying illness. You can have a psychotic episode after a stressful event like losing a close friend or relative. It can also be the result of a physical illness (like a severe infection), the use of illegal drugs (like cannabis) or a severe mental illness (like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder).
Sometimes, especially the first time you the illness, it is difficult to know what has caused the illness.
How do I know if I have psychosis?
When you have psychosis, you will usually experience very unusual and sometimes unpleasant thoughts and experiences. They may appear suddenly making you feel really frightened. They can also creep in so gradually that others, like your close family and friends, notice you are behaving strangely before you know it.
You may experience one or more of the symptoms below:
- Unusual beliefs called ‘delusions’. These are very strong beliefs which are obviously untrue to others, but not to you. For example, when you are ill, you may think that there is a plot to harm you or that you are being spied on by the TV or being taken over by aliens. Sometimes you may feel you have special powers.
- Thought disorder. This is when you cannot think straight. Your ideas may seem jumbled, but it is more than being muddled or confused. Other people will find it very difficult to follow what you say.
- Unusual experiences called ‘hallucinations’. These are when you can see, hear, smell or feel something that isn’t really there. The most common hallucination that people have is hearing voices. Hallucinations are very real to the person having them. This can be very frightening and can make you believe that you are being watched or picked on.
Having these strange thoughts and experiences can affect you at school, home or when with friends. You may find it difficult to concentrate and enjoy your usual activities. They can even affect your sleep and appetite.
How do I get help?
It is important that you seek help early. The earlier you are treated for psychosis, the quicker you can get back to your normal life.
Firstly, you could talk to your family, school nurse or GP. They may get you specialist help from a Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) team or an Early Intervention Team or Service (EIS) – a specialist team for young people with psychosis.
With psychosis, you often don’t realise that you are unwell, which means that people around you notice it first. If you become very unwell, you may need some time in hospital until you get better and illness is in control/goes away.
What is the treatment for psychosis?
Medications called ‘antipsychotics’ are an important part of treatment. They may need to be taken for a long time in order to stay well. As with medication of any kind, there can be side-effects. The doctor you see will be able to advise you on these and what can be done to help.
If the psychosis is related to drug use or an underlying physical illness, you may need specific help and treatment to manage this.
Other forms of treatment are also important. You and your family will need help to understand more about your illness, how to manage it, and how to help prevent it coming back. You may need support to rebuild your confidence to continue with school, college or work.
Talking treatments can be helpful as well, but need to be in addition to medication.
What will happen in the future?
Most young people with early help and treatment recover from their psychotic episode. If the illness is due to an underlying physical illness or the use of drugs, you might avoid having another episode by taking the right treatment and avoiding using drugs.
It is often difficult to know what the long-term effects of a psychotic episode will be, and a definite diagnosis may not be possible straight away.
Is there anything else I should do?
It is important to continue with any treatment advised by your doctor and keep a balanced, healthy lifestyle.
Talking to others when you feel stressed can help in identifying problems early and getting the right treatment.