In a crisis?
For urgent medical attention, for example, if you’re worried about acting on thoughts of suicide, or you’ve seriously harmed yourself, you can call 999 or go straight to A&E.
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. 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.
If you experience psychosis alongside other symptoms you may be given a diagnosis. However, 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’.
The most common types of psychotic experiences are hallucinations, delusions and disorganised thinking and speech. You may experience it once, have short episodes throughout your life or live with it most of the time.
What’s it like to have psychosis?
Some people have positive experiences of psychosis but for others it can be a difficult and frightening experience.
- affect your behaviour or disrupt your life
- make you feel very tired or overwhelmed
- make you feel anxious, scared, threatened or confused
- leave you finding it very difficult to trust some organisations or people.
What might you experience?
Hallucinations could include:
- seeing things that other people don’t (for example people’s faces, animals or religious figures)
- seeing objects that seem to be distorted or move in ways that they usually wouldn’t
- experiencing tastes, smells and sensations that have no apparent cause (for example feeling insects crawling on your skin)
- hearing voices that other people don’t (these could be positive and helpful or hostile and nasty).
Lots of people have beliefs that many other people don’t share. But a delusion is usually a belief that nobody else shares and which other experiences or perceptions show cannot be true. It is natural for delusions to feel completely real to you when you are experiencing them.
You might think that you are a very important person. For example, you may believe that you are rich and powerful or that you can control the stock markets or the weather. These kinds of beliefs are sometimes called ‘delusions of grandeur’.
Some people find that they can spend a lot of money or take on a lot of debt while they are experiencing psychosis, because their sense of reality has been affected.
Some delusions can be very frightening and can make you feel threatened or unsafe. For example, you might feel that something or someone is trying to control, harm or kill you (even when you have no reason to believe this).
Disorganised thinking and speech
Hallucinations and delusions can make your thoughts and emotions feel confused and disorganised, but disorganised thinking (sometimes called ‘formal thought disorder’) can also be a specific type of psychosis.
Mental health professionals may use the following terms to describe what you are experiencing:
- Racing thoughts – when your thoughts go through your head very fast. They can race so fast that they feel out of control.
- Flight of ideas – where your thoughts move very quickly from idea to idea,. They make links and seemeaning between things that other people don’t.
Many people find that they experience racing thoughts and flight of ideas at the same time.
If you have disorganised thinking you might:
- speak very quickly and stumble over your words. Other people may find it difficult to understand what you’re saying
- link words together because of the way they sound rather than what they mean. This can make your speech sound jumbled to other people (this is sometimes called word salad)
- change the topic of conversation very quickly as your thoughts move from one thing to another
- find it difficult to keep your attention on one thing.
Getting help for psychosis
There is stigma around psychosis, but it is important to remember you are not alone. You don’t deserve or have to cope with people treating you badly.
For many people, there is no quick and simple treatment for psychosis, but with the right support it is possible to manage the symptoms of psychosis and recover.
This does not mean that the experience of psychosis will go away entirely. You may find that you still experience symptoms during and after treatment. What treatment can do though is help you learn ways of coping so that your experiences are less distressing and don’t interfere with your life as much.
Treatment can include talking therapies and anti-psychotic medication.
What can I do to help myself?
- Peer support – Support groups can be a non-judgemental place to share your experiences with others who understand what it is like
- Keep a journal – This can be away of understanding your experiences by writing down what is going on for you. It can also be a way of noticing repeating signs or triggers of psychotic episodes.
- Grounding exercises – Try grounding exercises like the ‘5-4-3-2-1 senses’ technique. It encourages you to focus on the details of the things and their physical properties:
- 5 things you can see,
- 4 things you can feel,
- 3 things you can hear,
- 2 things you can smell,
- 1 thing you can taste.
- Look after your physical health. Have you had enough to eat and drink? Had enough sleep?
It can be useful to create a plan for yourself of things that have helped in the past. It records people and organisations you can safely reach out to when you feel your reaching a crisis.
Who can help with psychosis? – Useful contacts
Early intervention (EI) teams work with you during your first experience of psychosis. They usually include people who can help you in different ways. For example you might see:
- community mental health nurses
- social workers
- support workers.
If you experience psychosis frequently or it lasts a long time, you may be referred to community care services to help you cope. The phrase ‘community care’ is used to describe various services available to help you manage your physical and mental health problems in the community. This might include:
- your community mental health team (CMHT)
- nursing or social work support
- home help
- day centres
- supported accommodation.
Offers courses such as ‘Unusual Experiences’ which focuses on experiences such as psychosis. You’ll find out how to understand and move forward when dealing with these experiences.