Psychotic illness

If you are concerned about a friend or family member who is showing signs of psychosis, it is important to seek help early.

What is psychosis?

Psychosis refers to a period of detachment from reality where a person may experience hallucinations, delusions, or disorganised thoughts and behaviours. The causes of psychosis are complex and varied including genetics, early childhood development, adverse life experiences, drug use, and other factors. It often develops in adolescence or early adulthood, and early intervention at this stage is important to later outcomes. Many individuals withdraw from others, making it difficult to determine what is going on.

With the right support and treatment, most people diagnosed with a psychotic illness will recover and be able to lead a healthy and meaningful life.

Psychotic symptoms vary from person to person, and even from episode to episode. A person experiencing psychosis may experience or present with the following:

  1. Disordered thinking — the person might be confused as their thoughts do not make sense or connect. Their speech and language may be unusual, and their conversation might be difficult to follow. The person may find it difficult to concentrate, remember things or make plans.
  2. Delusions — the person might hold beliefs that are false or not based on fact. Persecutory delusions are the most common type of delusions a person may have when experiencing psychosis. In this case, the person believes that they will be harmed by another individual or group of people.
  3. Hallucinations — are when you see, hear, feel, smell or taste something that is not actually there. Auditory hallucinations are the most common type of hallucinations associated with psychosis and related disorders. The person experiencing hallucinations hears voices distinct from their own thoughts which no one else can hear. Hallucinations can cause people to become agitated and distressed.
  4. Changes in behaviour — a person experiencing a psychotic episode might also behave in an unusual way. They may become angry or upset without any apparent cause, or they may be unusually excited or depressed. They may have difficulties managing their daily tasks such as personal hygiene or their home environment or in some rare cases become catatonic where they are less responsive to the world around them.

If you are concerned about a friend or family member that is showing signs of psychosis, it is important to seek help early on. Here are some tips on how to help:

  • If the individual is at risk of harm to themselves or others, call 000 immediately to notify emergency services. If someone is exhibiting signs of psychosis, you can offer to take them to the emergency department of your local hospital for assessment and treatment.
  • Encourage other supports including meeting their GP for an initial assessment and appropriate referrals.
  • Psychosis can be distressing for both the person experiencing it and those around them. Give them time and support to process what is happening to them. Demonstrating patience, compassion and non-judgment while they learn more about their condition can be instrumental in their recovery.