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What is psychosis?

Psychosis is a mental health disorder which can develop over time, but can also come on suddenly. Psychosis is complex, and early signs can vary from person to person. A person’s ability to function on a day-to-day basis may be noticeably affected in many areas of daily life – sleep, speech, diet, concentration, interests and relationships. However, small changes can also creep up before the more obvious symptoms of psychosis have developed.

Psychosis facts

  • Psychosis is a medical condition that affects the brain
  • The first major instance of psychosis usually occurs in your late teens or early adult life
  • Psychosis affects males and females equally
  • Approximately 3% of all people experience an episode of psychosis in their lifetime
  • Psychosis has no boundaries and can occur across cultures and different social/economic levels
  • Using drugs can increase the risk of psychosis
  • Young people who have a relative with psychosis or schizophrenia have a slightly increased risk
  • The experience of psychosis varies greatly from person to person, meaning that people experiencing psychosis can have different symptoms
  • Psychosis is treatable and recovery is expected

Recovering from Psychosis

  • With help from a mental health professional, and support from family and friends, psychosis is treatable, and recovery can be expected.
  • Treatment is tailored to the severity of the disorder. Medication can be prescribed by a Physician and counselling is almost always recommended.
  • You can think of recovery from psychosis as part of a personal journey to feel a degree of satisfaction with life and have meaningful relationships with people you trust – whether they are family members, friends or people at school or work.
  • Recovery also means different things to each person. For some, recovery means that no symptoms will persist, while for others, recovery means learning to live a full life despite any ongoing symptoms.

Signs of Psychosis

Note: These symptoms are not necessarily present all the time. This list should not be used to diagnose yourself or someone else. This is intended only to provide general information. If you think you might be experiencing a mental illness, you should see your doctor for an accurate assessment and treatment plan.

Signs of psychosis can include:

  • Becoming overly suspicious of other people without a good reason
  • Hearing voices when there’s no one around
  • Believing in unusual, unlikely things like special superhuman powers
  • Having trouble concentrating, completing tasks and being organized
  • A noticeable difference in the ability to complete school or work tasks
  • A decline in personal grooming and hygiene
  • Changing sleep habits – either sleeping too much or not being able to sleep at all
  • Unclear thinking patterns and disorganized self-expression

These experiences often go hand in hand with other changes in thoughts, feelings and behaviours. Remember that these experiences may instead be the result of many things, including other types of mental health problems, drug use*, medical problems or even a temporary reaction to being stressed out.

*Recent research does show a link between psychosis in young people and marijuana use. You can visit “Here to Help” in Canada online and check out the fact sheet on cannabis and psychosis for more information.

Psychosis is not:

  • Caused by bad parenting or poverty
  • The result of any personal failure of the individual
  • A split personality
  • A cause for shame or blame

When young people have a hard time managing their lives, symptoms can take various forms. Anxiety, depression and substance use can often be signs of difficulty coping, but might also be symptoms of psychosis.

Getting help

Seek emergency help immediately if you are having suicidal thoughts, or thoughts of harming yourself or others.

You should also seek help right away if you:

  • Have trouble with alcohol or drug use, or have other mental health concerns
  • Think your symptoms could be linked to a physical health problem
  • Are experiencing prolonged trouble sleeping
  • Feel as though normal life stresses don’t explain your symptoms

Try to talk to someone about how you feel. Sharing concerns with someone you trust can help keep you safe and direct you to medical help if necessary. Think about talking to:

  • A parent or other family member
  • Your school guidance counsellor
  • Medical personnel, such as your doctor or a nurse at a clinic, band office or nursing station
  • Staff at a teen clinic
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