What is it?
Psychosis is a word that describes a mental state that affects the way people think, feel and understand things. Psychosis can be a very worrying and scary experience that can make it difficult for the person to know what is real and what isn’t. Psychosis can affect anyone and becomes more common during adolescence and young adulthood.
Signs of psychosis
Everyone’s experience of psychosis will be different, however some common signs can include:
The most common type of hallucinations are hearing voices or seeing things that the young person believes are real but are not actually real. Hallucinations can affect any of our senses so they may also feel, taste or smell things that are not real. For the young person having hallucinations, the experience feels very real and can be very frightening and distressing.
These are strong, fixed beliefs that the young person holds but other people around them do not share. These beliefs can make them think they are being controlled by others or that people are ‘out to get them’, when they’re not. Some people have beliefs that they are very important or have special powers.
Thoughts can become mixed up and confusing – they may experience thoughts which occur much faster or slower than before, making it difficult to follow their conversations or make sense of what they are saying. The young person might have difficulty concentrating or remembering things.
When a young person is experiencing these things they may react in different ways, such as:
- Extreme mood swings
- Over-excited/over-active behaviour
- Withdrawn and cut off from the world around them
- Slowed down in speech and behaviour
- Behaving oddly or differently from the way they usually would
- Laughing inappropriately
- Behaving suspiciously
- Having disturbed sleep
- Changes in appetite
Often young people with psychosis don’t realise that they are unwell; usually family and friends are the ones who notice a change in the child’s behaviour or character.
Understanding what causes psychosis is complicated as it seems that lots of things can play a part. The main causes of psychosis are thought to be:
Traumatic life experiences
Research has found that some people who have symptoms of psychosis have also experienced traumatic events in their life. This is particularly linked to hearing voices.
Substances such as alcohol or drugs
Drug misuse and drug withdrawal can both trigger psychosis. Drugs that are associated with this are: alcohol, cocaine, amphetamine (speed), methamphetamine (crystal meth), MDMA (ecstasy), cannabis, LSD (acid), psilocybins (magic mushrooms), ketamine, and M-Cat.
Symptoms of psychosis are often triggered by stress, which can often be caused by things such as problems at school, losing someone close, or being bullied. Long-term stress, such as family problems can also make it worse. If your child is having sleeping difficulties and they’re not getting much sleep at all (sleep deprivation), this can also be a trigger.
Mental health diagnosis
Psychosis is associated with conditions such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, personality disorders, severe stress or anxiety, and severe depression (including postnatal depression). So if your child is diagnosed with one of these mental health challenges, it’s possible they may also experience psychosis.
General medical conditions
There are some medical conditions such as viruses and infections that can trigger episodes of psychosis.
What can I do?
If you’re at all worried your child might have psychosis, it’s very important that you get help as soon as possible by speaking to a GP, who can advise you on what to do.
Psychosis can be a very scary experience, but it can be successfully controlled through medication and other treatments; the earlier psychosis is treated, the quicker the young person can recover. There are a number of psychological treatments that can be used to aid a person’s recovery; speaking to a GP will be helpful in explaining what they are and what the best course of treatment may be for your child.