What are the signs and symptoms of Psychosis and how can it be treated?

Melissa Smith received help from the Early Intervention in Psychosis Team

What is Psychosis?

Psychosis is when people lose some contact with reality.

This might involve seeing or hearing things that other people cannot see or hear (hallucinations) and believing things that are not actually true (delusions).

What are the symptoms?

The 2 main symptoms of psychosis are:

  • hallucinations

  • delusions – where a person has strong beliefs that are not shared by others; a common delusion is someone believing there's a conspiracy to harm them

The combination of hallucinations and delusional thinking can cause severe distress and a change in behaviour.

Experiencing the symptoms of psychosis is often referred to as having a psychotic episode.

When to get medical advice

You should see a GP immediately if you are experiencing symptoms of psychosis. 

It is important psychosis is treated as soon as possible, as early treatment can be more effective.

The GP may ask you some questions to help determine what is causing your psychosis.

They should also refer you to a mental health specialist for further assessment and treatment.

Getting help for others

If you are concerned about someone you know, you could contact a GP for them.

If they are receiving support from a mental health service, you could contact their mental health worker.

If you think the person's symptoms are severe enough to require urgent treatment and could be placing them at possible risk, you can:

  • take them to the nearest  A&E, if they agree

  • call their GP or 

  • call 999 and ask for an ambulance

Causes of Psychosis

It is sometimes possible to identify the cause of psychosis as a specific mental health condition, such as:

Psychosis can also be triggered by:

How often a psychotic episode occurs and how long it lasts can depend on the underlying cause.

Treating Psychosis

Treatment for psychosis involves using a combination of:

  • antipsychotic medicine – which can help relieve the symptoms of psychosis

  • psychological therapies – the 1-to-1 talking therapy has proved successful in helping people with psychosis, and family interventions (a form of therapy that may involve partners, family members and close friends) have been shown to reduce the need for hospital treatment in people with psychosis.

  • social support – support with social needs, such as education, employment or accommodation

Some people are recommended to take antipsychotics on a long-term basis (and possibly for the rest of their lives).

Other people may be able to gradually reduce their dosage and then stop taking them altogether if there is a marked improvement in symptoms.

Do not stop suddenly taking any prescribed medicines as this could trigger a relapse of your symptoms.

If a person's psychotic episodes are severe, they may need to be admitted to a psychiatric hospital for treatment.

For further information, here are some helpful links:

Early Intervention in Psychosis