A person experiencing psychosis perceives the world in a different way to those around them, including hallucinations, delusions or both.
What is psychosis?
A person experiencing psychosis perceives the world in a different way to those around them, including hallucinations, delusions or both:
- Hallucinations are when you see, hear, feel, taste or smell something that others don't
- Delusions are when you have thoughts or beliefs that others do not.
They may also have difficulty thinking clearly, focusing on one thing and speaking coherently.
A diagnosis of psychosis is usually made by a psychiatrist. They will base it on how someone is feeling, thinking and behaving. It is important to remember that a diagnosis is not a label. It is a tool to help professionals decide what types of treatment and support may help. Diagnoses may also change over the course of someone's lifetime.
I had become very high and energetic after [my daughter’s] birth, and by day ten I believed that the end of the world was coming - Naomi
How common is psychosis?
Research suggests that just over 2 in 100 people will be diagnosed with a psychotic disorder, such as schizophrenia or 'affective psychosis', in their lifetime. However, many more people experience psychosis without receiving a diagnosis. People can also experience psychosis as part of schizophrenia, bipolar, some personality disorders and on some rare occasions, depression.
What are some of the myths and misconceptions about people who experience psychosis?
Some cultures believe psychosis to be a sign of being 'possessed' by evil spirits which can lead the person to be isolated from their friends and family, or even for them to be harmed. Others see it as a spiritual or religious experience.
If I mentioned my symptoms to anyone it was put down to “imagination” or some sort of supernatural phenomena, like ghosts; no one ever thought that it could be something to do with my mental health – Melissa
One of the most unhelpful and inaccurate beliefs about what it means to have psychosis is to associate it with violence. Some people even use the word 'psychotic' to mean dangerous. However, people with mental health problems are actually more likely to be victims of violence than to commit it themselves. The perception that people with psychosis are dangerous can stop them from asking for help when they need it. They may also feel they are unable to share thoughts or feelings with their friends and family, leaving them isolated and alone.
People can be scared by the word 'psychosis'. It turns out that using that word, thanks to the media, tends to make people think you’re a serial killer - Henry
How does psychosis affect people's lives?
Having a belief or experience that others don’t believe or understand can be frightening, isolating and frustrating. It can be hard for the person experiencing psychosis to know whether they can trust even those who are normally the closest to them. The beliefs and experiences themselves can also be very worrying. For this reason people with experience of psychosis have a higher risk of suicide and self-harm. They are also more likely to misuse drugs and alcohol.
Many people will only ever have one 'episode' of psychosis, but some people will experience many periods of psychosis over their lives, especially if they have not been able to get the support or treatment they need early on.
My thoughts about what was happening became increasingly unrealistic and I had a number of delusions of persecution. This interfered with my understanding of the meaning of social interactions with other people and I said many things that must have appeared very strange. Some of my delusions caused great emotional distress - Robert
How can I help someone experiencing psychosis?
Don't argue with them
You may think it’s helpful to try and correct or challenge the strange beliefs or experiences someone with psychosis is going through. But it is important to remember that these things are very real to them, and disagreeing with them may cause them to stop communicating with you all together or make them feel more scared and alone.
It is more helpful to focus on how they are feeling rather than what they are experiencing. Explain that while you are not experiencing the same things, or have the same beliefs, you do understand how they are making them feel, and that you would like to help.
Find out about psychosis
There are lots of resources online which you can use to find out about psychosis. This may help you to understand what your friend or family member is going through and help you to feel more confident in offering support. Try starting with the Mind or Rethink Mental Illness websites.
Give them information about other types of support
Sometimes the support of friends and family is not enough. Letting them know about the support they can get from the NHS, private healthcare or organisations like Mind and Rethink Mental Illness can also be helpful.
If someone is diagnosed with psychosis, their doctor may offer them a combination of psychological therapies and medication. There are also other types of support which can help someone experiencing psychosis stay well. These might be related to lifestyle, education or social activities.
If someone is in the middle of a period of psychosis they might not be aware that they are unwell and so may not see why they need medical help. This can be really difficult to deal with, but there are ways of getting someone help without their agreement if they are at serious risk or danger to themselves or others. Mind or Rethink Mental Illness have information on this.