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Psychosis: The Basics

Psychosis - when it is hard for a person to tell what is real and what is not real.

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What is psychosis (si KO sis)?

Psychosis refers to experiences when it is difficult for a person to tell what is real and what is not real. When someone is struggling with a psychosis, their perceptions (vision, hearing, smell, touch, and taste) and thinking are changed. That can make things that are not real seem real.

  • Perceptions can change such that people hear voices, see things or feel things that are not there.
  • Thinking can become jumbled and unrealistic ideas develop.
  • Feelings and emotions towards self, others, or the outside world can change or are exaggerated.
  • Trouble with figuring out what’s real may trigger feelings of dread, panic, fear, or anxiety.

When psychosis happens:

  • Symptoms may start slowly and only show up from time to time.
  • There can be a period of time when symptoms are very strong and get in the way of a person’s life.
  • It may last only a short period of time or it may continue off and on for weeks, months or even years unless the person receives treatment.
  • Sometimes people deny or try to hide their symptoms because they are afraid of being different.

It is often very frightening for the person experiencing psychosis. If you are concerned about some experiences you’ve been having, take the Questioning Reality Self-check.

What can lead to psychosis?

There no single thing that leads to psychosis. Some things that may trigger episodes of psychosis include:

  • drugs or other substances
  • prescription medications
  • traumatic events
  • physical illness
  • mental illness
  • biological factors, including a family history of psychosis

It is important to get help early in order to recover faster and reduce the negative effect psychosis may have. Specialized early psychosis treatments and services are available. 

What Next?

If you want to learn more about the early signs or find out if this is something you are experiencing here are a few options.