Psychosis is a mental health problem that causes people to lose touch with reality as other people see it, and interpret things differently to those around them.

It can be a symptom of a serious mental health condition such as bipolar disorder with psychotic features or schizoaffective disorder, or schizophrenia. Experiencing the symptoms of psychosis is commonly referred to as having a psychotic episode.

There are two main symptoms of psychosis:

  • Hallucinations – where you hear, see and, in some cases, feel, smell or taste things that aren't there; a common example is hearing voices
  • Delusions – where you have strong beliefs that aren't shared by others; a common delusion is believing there is a conspiracy to harm you
A person who develops psychosis will have their own unique set of symptoms and experiences that are according to their particular circumstances. Other symptoms can include:

  • Feeling that you're being followed or your life is in danger
  • Muddled thinking and difficulty concentrating
  • A feeling that something outside yourself is controlling you
  • A feeling that time speeds up or slows down.

Just because you are experiencing some of these symptoms, that doesn't mean you are affected by psychosis, but it's really important to get the support you need as quickly as you can. Because of its symptoms, psychosis can cause a significant change in behaviour and be very frightening – but it is treatable. A psychotic episode might happen just once, or it could be an ongoing problem that needs longer term treatment. Psychosis is usually treated using medications called anti-psychotics or neuroleptics, but there are also specialist teams who can provide support to help you.

If you are worried about psychosis, or feel like you might be experiencing some of the symptoms described here, talk to someone you trust, and make an appointment with your GP. Your GP will be able to refer you for some specialist support, so that the symptoms can be treated and managed. If you're worried about how to talk to someone about what you're experiencing, our guide to starting conversations might be helpful.

Because of the nature of psychosis, it can be common for other people to notice the symptoms before you do yourself. If you are worried about someone, encourage them to speak to their GP, and talk to an adult you trust about your concerns.

Dorset HealthCare has specialist teams who can treat and support young people experiencing psychotic episodes. The Early Intervention in Psychosis Service (EIS) is aimed at young people from 14 years upwards and is for anybody who is experiencing the following:

  • Hearing voices or changes in their thoughts
  • Alterations in how events, people and thoughts are perceived
  • Feeling suspicious at times about other people
  • Experiencing beliefs and thoughts that cause the person distress
  • Changes in behaviour such as becoming more isolated or reduced motivation.

The service aims to:

  • Discuss with the person their experiences and assess their mental health
  • Help the person to increase their understanding of what is happening to them
  • Reduce the level of distress caused by their experiences
  • Work alongside the person to increase their abilities in coping with their problems
  • Work closely with family and friends to promote recovery
  • Assist the person to plan for their future.

The service include specially trained staff including nurses, occupational therapists, family intervention workers, cognitive behavioural therapists, doctors and psychologists. They have had training and experience of working with young people with early signs of psychosis and their families. The service also has close links with other clinical teams including CAMHS.

If you'd like more information about psychosis, the following resources might be helpful:

NHS information on psychosis

Young Minds factsheet about psychosis