What is psychosis?
Psychosis (also called a ‘psychotic experience’ or ‘psychotic episode’) is when you perceive or interpret reality in a very different way from people around you. You might be said to ‘lose touch’ with reality.
The most common types of psychotic experiences are hallucinations, delusions and disorganised thinking and speech. For more information on these see our page on types of psychosis.
Psychosis affects people in different ways. You might experience it once, have short episodes throughout your life, or live with it most of the time.
Some people have positive experiences of psychosis. For example, if you see the faces of loved ones or hear their voices you may find this comforting. Some people say it helps them understand the world or makes them more creative.
“Twelve years on, I can reflect upon my experience as a transformative one.”
However, for other people psychosis can be a very difficult or frightening experience. You may find that it:
- affects your behaviour or disrupts your life
- makes you feel very tired or overwhelmed
- makes you feel anxious, scared, threatened or confused
- leaves you finding it very difficult to trust some organisations or people.
It can also be upsetting if people around you dismiss your experiences as untrue when they seem very real to you. You may feel misunderstood and frustrated if other people don’t understand. It might help to share our section for friends and family with them.
“The sense of shame and guilt I felt because was I incapable of functioning day-to-day as an adult left me isolated from others and aggressive to those who cared and wanted to help.”
Is psychosis a diagnosis or a symptom?
The word psychosis is usually used to refer to an experience. It is a symptom of certain mental health problems rather than a diagnosis itself.
Doctors and psychiatrists may describe someone as experiencing psychosis rather than giving them a specific diagnosis. Some people prefer this.
If you are diagnosed with one or more of these conditions then you may experience psychosis. Alternatively, if you experience psychosis (and you have other symptoms too), then you may be given one of these diagnoses:
- severe depression
- bipolar disorder
- schizoaffective disorder
- paranoid personality disorder or schizotypal personality disorder
- postpartum psychosis
- delusional disorder.
Some people experience psychosis on its own. If you experience psychosis for less than a month and your doctor doesn’t think that another diagnosis describes your symptoms better, you may receive the diagnosis of ‘brief psychotic disorder’.
See our types of psychosis and causes of psychosis pages for more information.
Psychosis and stigma
There are a lot of misunderstandings about what it means to experience psychosis. Lots of people wrongly think that the word ‘psychotic’ means ‘dangerous’. The media often shows people with psychosis behaving like this even though very few people who experience psychosis ever hurt anyone else.
It’s important to remember that you aren’t alone and you don’t have to put up with people treating you badly. For some suggestions on things you can do to tackle stigma have a look at our information page on stigma and misconceptions.