What is psychosis?
Psychosis is a medical term. It describes symptoms people have when they experience, believe or view things around them differently to other people. Anyone can experience a psychotic illness, however some groups are more likely to experience psychosis than others. About 1 in every 100 people will experience a psychotic episode in their lifetime.
You are more likely to have a first episode of psychosis when you are younger, and men and women are affected equally. The average age for first experiencing psychosis is younger in men, often in their teens and early 20s. Women who develop psychosis are more likely to do so in their early 20s.
If you have psychosis, you might see or hear things that others may not, or believe things other people do not. Some people describe it as a "break from reality". You may also hear terms such as “psychotic symptoms”, “psychotic episode” or “psychotic experience” describing the same thing.
Typical examples of psychosis include the following.
These are when you see, hear or feel things which are not actually there. For example:
- hearing voices,
- seeing things which other people do not see,
- feeling someone touching you who is not there, or
- smelling things which other people cannot.
These are beliefs that are not true and may seem irrational to others. For example you may believe:
- that you are being followed by secret agents or members of the public,
- that people are out to get you or trying to kill you. This can be strangers or family members,
- that something has been planted in your brain to monitor your thoughts, or
- you have special powers, are on a special mission or in some cases that you are a God.
You may not always find these experience distressing, although people do. You can stay in work and function at a high level in your life even if you have these experiences.
Cognitive experiences are ones that relate to mental action; such as learning, remembering and functioning.
Some cognitive experiences are associated with psychosis are:
- being unable to sustain attention,
- memory problems
- unable to take on information
- poor decision making
Some people and cultures have different ideas about what causes mental illness. Depression and anxiety may be thought of as being caused by physical pain or discomfort. Some encourage people with psychosis to embrace their symptoms and understand their meanings - some psychologists believe that delusions can be symptoms of deeper psychological distress which people should work through.
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