What is psychosis?

The word psychosis describes a set of symptoms that include delusions (believing something that is unlikely to be true – that members of a secret society are conspiring to hurt you, for example), hallucinations (hearing voices, for example) and confused and disturbed thinking.

People who have a mental illness such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, schizoaffective disorder and psychotic depression experience some or all of the symptoms of psychosis. People who have some types of personality disorder can also experience these symptoms.

The symptoms of psychosis can also occur as a result of a physical health problem or disease. Urinary tract, chest or other infections, particularly in older people, can cause delirium, which can give rise to the symptoms of psychosis. People who have brain diseases such as Parkinson's disease, or dementia, or some types of epilepsy, may experience the symptoms of psychosis.

The symptoms can also occur as a result of a brain tumour. Regular and excessive consumption of alcohol and illicit drugs can prompt psychotic symptoms. Sometimes psychotic experiences can be triggered by severe stress or anxiety, by sleep deprivation, or as a side effect of some medication.

It is best to get advice and treatment for the symptoms of psychosis as soon as people start experiencing them. Talk to your GP who can make a referral to the appropriate specialist services.

The above information is taken from this excellent website about psychosis:

Myths about psychosis

People sometimes have misconceptions about the words psychosis or psychotic – including:

  1. Associating the word with someone who is dangerous or violent - the truth is that it’s very rare for someone with psychosis to do bad things – they are often fearful of others. There is a much greater risk of violence from drugs and alcohol than psychosis, and people with psychosis are much more likely to be harmed than they are to harm others.
  2. That psychosis isn’t treatable – many patients who experience psychosis only have it as a one off event in their lives. Many other people can manage their illness with medication and live normal lives. Some people can

also learn to accommodate and live with their psychotic experiences.

  1. Psychosis gets confused with the term psychopathy, which is totally different – psychopathy is a personality disorder. The psychopath can appear normal, even charming. Underneath, they lack conscience and empathy, making them manipulative and volatile. There is no connection between psychosis or psychopathy. 
  2. Schizophrenia is sometimes confused with the disorder split personality or multiple personality. They are very different forms of mental illness. Split personality is when a person has two or more separate and conflicting identities. Split personality is often, now called Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID).

It’s important to try and break away from these negative myths, which can be distressing for patients, their families and friends. See the ‘Get Involved’ page for more information on how you can help.