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Mental Health Now factsheet: psychosis

What is psychosis?

Psychosis is a general term used to describe a mental health issue in which a person experiences changes in thinking, perception, mood and behaviour which can severely disrupt their life. It includes the person losing touch with some commonly accepted reality. It may affect the person’s relationships, work and self-care. 

The main diagnostic categories of psychosis are schizophrenia, bipolar disorder (previously known as manic depression), postpartum psychosis, schizoaffective disorder and drug-induced psychosis. 
Psychosis usually begins in adolescence or early twenties. The onset can be rapid with symptoms developing over several weeks or it can be slow and develop over months or years. Psychosis is not a constant or static condition, and symptoms vary between not being experienced at all to being severe.  

Common symptoms of psychosis

Psychosis can manifest in a variety of ways and different symptoms are associated with different types of psychotic disorders. Some common symptoms which may be noticed when psychosis is first developing include:
  • Changes in emotion and motivation (such as depression, anxiety, irritability, suspiciousness, flat or inappropriate emotion, reduced energy)
  • Changes in thinking and perception (such as difficulties with concentration or attention, feeling that the person or others or the world has changed in some way, odd ideas, unusual perceptual experiences)
  • Changes in behaviour (such as, sleep disturbances, social isolation or withdrawal, or reduced ability to carry out work or social roles)

Treatment and recovery

It can take one to two years for a person experiencing psychosis to get appropriate treatment, but the longer the psychosis remains untreated, the worse the outcome. Left untreated symptoms become more severe and the person’s functioning becomes worse. Depression or anxiety commonly are experienced at the same time as psychosis.  

People who get proper treatment can lead productive and fulfilling lives, meaning recovery is possible. Recovery from a first episode of psychosis varies in how long it takes and it can be from a number of months to years to find the best treatment. 

Treatment often involves medication, as well as psychological therapies like cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) and family interventions. Treatment in a hospital may be needed for a while. Decisions about treatment options should be made with the person as much as possible. 

Carers' needs and physical health checks should also be part of the person’s treatment.  

Supporting people with psychosis in the workplace

Early professional help has been found to lead to better recovery long-term and reduces the chances of the person developing further episodes of psychosis, so do not delay in seeking help.  

An initial assessment should be made by the person’s GP, or via an employee assistance programme (EAP). They are likely to refer the person on to a specialist multi-disciplinary team for assessment and advice on treatment. If this is not the person’s first episode of psychosis, check if they have a crisis card or advance directive which outline how they want to be treated if they become very unwell and who should be contacted for additional support.

Where to find out more