What is psychosis?

There is a group of illnesses which disrupt the functioning of the brain so much, they cause a condition called psychosis. When someone experiences psychosis they are unable to distinguish what is real — there is a loss of contact with reality. Most people are able to recover from an episode of psychosis.

What are the symptoms?

Among symptoms doctors look for are:

  • Confused thinking
    When acutely ill, people with psychotic symptoms experience disordered thinking. The everyday thoughts that let us live our daily lives become confused and don’t join up properly.
  • Delusions
    A delusion is a false belief held by a person which is not held by others of the same cultural background.
  • Hallucinations
    The person sees, hears, feels, smells or tastes something that is not actually there. The hallucination is often of disembodied voices which no one else can hear.

What causes psychosis?

The causes of psychosis are not fully understood. They are likely to be a combination of genetic and other factors. It is probable that some people are born with a predisposition to develop this kind of illness, and that certain things — for example, stress or use of drugs such as marijuana, LSD or speed — can trigger their first episode.

Some people experience a brief form of psychosis, which lasts only a few days or weeks. Some people experience a few episodes of psychosis only. Some people experience psychosis associated with a longer-term illness such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.

How many people develop psychosis?

About 3 in 100 people will experience psychosis at some time in their lives. Most of these will be first affected in their late teens and early 20s.

How is psychosis treated?

Treatment can do much to reduce and even eliminate the symptoms. Treatment should generally include a combination of medication and community support. Both are usually essential for the best outcome.

  • Medication
    Certain medications assist the brain to restore its usual chemical balance. This then helps reduce or get rid of some of the symptoms.
  • Community support programmes
    This support should include information; accommodation; help with finding suitable work, training and education; psychosocial rehabilitation and mutual support groups. Understanding and acceptance by the community are also very important.

Last Reviewed: 24/05/2016

Reproduced with the kind permission of SANE Australia.


1. sane Australia. 2016. Psychosis. http://www.sane.org/information/factsheets-podcasts/185-psychosis (accessed May 2016.)