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What Is Psychosis?

Psychosis occurs when an individual loses touch with reality—a break that can be terrifying to experience or to observe in a loved one. Psychosis can include hallucinations, delusions, disorganized speech, and abnormal movements. Hallucinations—perceiving something that doesn’t exist—and delusions or false beliefs are hallmarks of psychosis. Disorganized speech may manifest as incoherent babbling and abnormal movements can include motionlessness, a state called catatonia.

Psychosis is a symptom, not a classifiable disorder in and of itself. Persistent symptoms of psychosis may lead to a diagnosis of a schizophrenia spectrum disorder, such as schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, or schizophreniform disorder. Psychosis can also be a symptom of bipolar disorder. But psychosis can also arise from other sources, such as sleep deprivation, alcohol, or drugs. It is important to seek professional help as soon as psychosis is experienced or suspected.

Approximately 100,000 young adults experience a first psychotic episode each year.

How Is Psychosis Controlled or Cured?

A single episode of psychosis—especially the first (First Episode Psychosis) can be controlled with medication; and a recurrence can often be prevented once the underlying cause is identified. To prevent further episodes, it is critical to seek treatment immediately.

Symptoms of psychosis are treated with both antipsychotic medications and psychotherapy. Antipsychotics can take the form of pills, liquids, or monthly injections. Hallucinations tend to subside in a couple of days and delusions in a few weeks, but medications require around six weeks to be fully effective. When individuals adhere to a treatment plan, even those who have experienced multiple psychotic episodes can manage their symptoms effectively and lead fulfilling lives.

What Are the Early Warning Signs of Psychosis?

Behavioral changes may be experienced and observed prior to a full psychotic episode. Signs include:

  • Withdrawal from friends and social activities
  • A drop in grades or job performance
  • Blunted affect (lack of discernible emotion) or inappropriate emotion
  • An inability to think clearly and the sense that something is "off"
  • Suspicions about the behavior of others
  • Aggression toward others
  • Memory problems and distractibility
  • Sensitivity to stimuli such as bright lights, noise, colors, and textures.
  • Peculiar use of words and phrases, and mangled syntax
  • Rapid speech and nonsensical statements

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