What is Psychosis?

Psychosis is the term used to refer to a state of mind that is out of touch with reality.  It can range from a mild brief psychotic episode to a very severe condition that requires admission to hospital.  Delusional beliefs, hearing voices, false interpretation of events and/or the actions of others and an over inflated sense of self are some of the symptoms associated with psychosis.  Psychosis can occur in the context of a psychiatric disorder such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and severe depression. Psychosis can also occur as a result of certain medical conditions, illicit drug use and the use of some prescribed medications.


Is psychosis common?

Psychosis associated with a serious mental health diagnosis is not common.  However, a short brief psychosis associated with illicit drug use is a more common occurrence. This may be in the form of acute intoxication, usually referred to as a “trip” or a drug induced psychotic episode that occurs due to persistent use of drugs such as cannabis.


What are the symptoms of Psychosis?

Psychosis can manifest in various forms.  Experiencing delusional beliefs is the most common type of symptom.  Delusional beliefs are thoughts and ideas that have no basis in reality, and the experiencer is convinced of these false thoughts and ideas.  Hearing voices when there is no one around or seeing things and visions can also occur. Interpreting the actions of others and external events in a biased, egocentric way is a symptom of psychosis.


What causes psychosis?

Dopamine a chemical which is normally present in the brain, has been implicated in the development of psychosis.  When this chemical is in excess the symptoms of psychosis can occur. Psychosis that occurs as part of a serious mental health condition has been shown to be associated with genes.  This is usually evident when numerous members of the same family have a history of the condition.  However, there are environmental triggers that turn on these genes.  Environmental triggers include stress, use of drugs and alcohol, nutritional deficiencies, medical conditions.  Less severe forms of psychosis could be caused by drug use, medication use, alcoholism and nutritional deficiencies.  Degenerative brain disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease, other brain disorders and head injuries could lead to a psychosis.


What is the treatment for psychosis?

Psychosis is a serious condition and in majority of cases requires treatment with tranquilisers also known as antipsychotics. These work by reducing the levels of a chemical called dopamine in certain areas of the brain.  An excess of this chemical has been shown to cause psychosis.  In most cases the psychosis subsides, however many people may be required to take medications for a significant period of time.  In other cases, depending on the nature and severity medication may be need for a time limited period. Psychosis that occurs as part of an acute intoxication due to illicit drug use like magic mushrooms subsides over time without medical intervention.


Can I get psychosis and how do I prevent myself from becoming psychotic?

Anyone can become psychotic, irrespective of whether they have a family history or not.  However, the risk is more pronounced in those with a genetic vulnerability.  Persistent and prolonged use of drugs such as cannabis and hallucinogens could lead to a more serious psychotic disorder.  Of significant importance is nutrition.  Certain nutritional deficiencies can cause psychosis and it is worthwhile ensuring that you are consuming enough fruit and vegetables.  Managing stress effectively, adequate sleep and hydration, abstaining from illicit drug use and having a vocation are will help reduce your risk.


If you or someone you know is in crisis or actively psychotic, please click here for information about emergency services available.


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