What Is Psychosis: A Symptom of an Illness

What Is Psychosis:

A Symptom of an Illness What is psychosis? Psychosis, while widely recognised as a profoundly distressing symptom, is often incorrectly viewed solely as an illness rather than a symptom.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics , around 4% of the adult population in Australia experiences a psychotic illness at some point in their lifetime (a scary percentage as every four people in 100 are likely to develop this symptom).
This guide will walk you through psychosis and why understanding this debilitating symptom is critical.

A Symptom or Psychotic Illness?

Psychosis is a complex and often misunderstood symptom that can manifest in various mental health conditions. It is characterized by a temporary disconnection from reality, which can be a frightening and confusing experience for those who experience it. While many people mistakenly conflate psychosis with psychotic illness, it’s important to note that they are not the same thing.

Psychotic episodes can include a range of symptoms, such as delusions, hallucinations, or disorganized thinking. These symptoms can be severe and can significantly impact a person’s ability to function in their daily life. However, it’s crucial to remember that experiencing psychosis does not necessarily mean a lifelong psychotic disorder is present.

Temporary conditions like sleep deprivation, hormonal changes, or reactions to certain medications can cause psychotic symptoms. It’s crucial to identify the underlying cause to get the appropriate treatment and support. By improving our understanding of psychosis, we can reduce the stigma and provide better care to those who experience it.

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What is the difference between a symptom and a psychotic illness?

Psychotic symptoms, despite their distressing nature, often offer a glimmer of hope—they are typically transient and can be triggered by external factors such as substance abuse or extreme stress.

However, the landscape changes when we discuss psychotic illnesses like schizophrenia. These conditions entail enduring and recurrent manifestations of psychosis, demanding a sustained treatment approach, often under the care of neurologists.

Furthermore, managing a diagnosis of psychotic illness often necessitates a holistic approach. This may involve coordinated care, including case management, to ensure the adherence and efficacy of the treatment plan over time.

It’s crucial to recognise that while psychotic symptoms can manifest in various disorders, diagnosing a psychotic illness requires a thorough assessment. This evaluation encompasses factors such as medical history, clinical interviews, and, in some cases, neuroimaging tests like MRI or CT scans.

Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is a complex mental health condition that affects millions of people globally. According to Better Health Channel, it is estimated that approximately 2.2% of Australians live with a form of bipolar disorder. One in 50 adult Australians experience bipolar disorder each year. It causes extreme mood swings, from manic highs to depressive lows. During a manic episode, people may feel euphoric, have an increased energy level, become impulsive, have racing thoughts and might sleep less. In contrast, during a depressive episode, people may feel sad, hopeless, fatigued, have trouble sleeping and lose interest in their once-enjoyed activities.

During a bipolar episode, it is not uncommon for someone to experience psychosis, which can manifest in the form of grandiose delusions or hearing voices. These symptoms can be incredibly distressing and disruptive to the individual’s life, making it difficult for them to function normally.

The standard treatment for bipolar disorder involves the use of mood stabilisers, antipsychotics, and in some cases, hospitalisation to stabilise the condition. Mood stabilisers like lithium are often the first line of defence in treating bipolar disorder. They work by reducing the severity and frequency of manic episodes. Antipsychotics like olanzapine or risperidone are used to treat psychotic symptoms that may arise during a bipolar episode.

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Types of Bipolar Disorders

There are several different types of bipolar and related disorders.

Bipolar I Disorder

People with bipolar I disorder typically experience:

  • one or more manic episodes (extreme highs) lasting at least one week, as well as depressive episodes

With bipolar I disorder, episodes of mania are severe enough to interfere with day-to-day life. Depressive episodes are often more frequent and longer-lasting than mania.

Bipolar II Disorder

People with bipolar II disorder typically experience both hypomanic and depressive episodes.

  • A person with hypomania will experience similar symptoms to someone with mania, but less intensely. Hypomania associated with bipolar II lasts only a few days (rather at least one week of mania, as with bipolar I). Although bipolar II disorder has less severe symptoms than bipolar I disorder, it can be chronic (ongoing).

Depressive episodes are often more frequent and longer-lasting than hypomania.

Cyclothymic Disorder

Persistent and unpredictable changes in mood characterise cyclothymic disorder. The highs and lows are much less extreme than for bipolar I and II disorder, with some symptoms of hypomanic and depressive episodes, but not enough to meet the criteria for either.

Mixed Episodes

Some people experience ‘mixed episodes’ – where they can feel some of the signs and symptoms of both depression and mania or hypomania.

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Delusional Disorder

Delusional disorder is characterised by the presence of one or more delusions, which are false beliefs that persist despite evidence to the contrary. This condition can lead to social isolation and difficulties with daily functioning. The treatment typically involves a combination of antipsychotic medications and psychotherapy, which are guided by a community mental health team. Delusional disorders can impact social functioning and productivity, which makes educational and vocational interventions crucial. Additionally, peer support groups can offer emotional support and shared experiences to help individuals cope more effectively.


Delusions – Delusional disorder is characterised by the presence of one or more delusions that persist for a minimum of one month. These delusions may revolve around different themes, such as:

  • persecutory (the belief of being targeted or harmed)
  • grandiose (an excessive sense of self-importance or power)
  • jealous (the belief of one’s partner being unfaithful)
  • somatic (beliefs of having a physical illness or defect)
  • erotomanic (the belief of someone being in love with them) 

Absence of Hallucinations – Delusional disorder is a condition where a person holds false beliefs that persist despite evidence to the contrary. Unlike schizophrenia, which can cause people to hear voices and see things that aren’t there, individuals with delusional disorder often don’t experience hallucinations or have only minimal ones.  

Functioning is Not Significantly Impaired – Despite having delusions, individuals with delusional disorder can still maintain normal functioning in various aspects of their lives, such as work and relationships.

Risk Factors:

Delusional disorder can be caused by three main factors: genetics, stressful life events, and neurobiological imbalances. It is often found in families where other members have also experienced the condition. Individuals who have experienced traumatic events or chronic stressors may be more prone to developing delusional disorder if they are already susceptible to the condition. Delusional disorder may be linked to an imbalance in certain neurotransmitters, particularly dopamine, serotonin, and glutamate.


Delusional disorders can be treated with medication, therapy, or hospitalization. Antipsychotics can reduce the severity of symptoms, with atypical antipsychotics being preferred due to fewer side effects. Cognitive-behavioral therapy or supportive therapy can help individuals understand their symptoms, challenge their beliefs, and learn coping strategies. In severe cases where there’s a risk of harm to oneself or others, hospitalization may be necessary.


Delusional disorder has varying outcomes depending on factors like self-awareness, comorbidities, and treatment efficacy. Although people with this disorder may function normally, their delusions may hinder their relationships. Early detection and treatment improve outcomes, but treatment can be difficult due to ingrained beliefs. Usually, treatment involves medication, therapy, and support from mental health professionals and caregivers for an extended period.

Psychotic Depression

Psychotic depression is a subtype of severe depression which is slightly less severe than absolute psychosis. When suffering from depression, you may experience delusions and hallucinations. The treatment approach typically involves a combination of antidepressant and antipsychotic medications. In some cases, clinicians may suggest repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (rTMS) as an alternative to Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT), particularly in cases where other treatments have failed or the patient is suicidal. ECT may be considered for severe cases where other treatments have not been effective.


Psychotic depression is a type of depression that includes symptoms of psychosis such as hallucinations (auditory, visual, olfactory, tactile, or gustatory) and delusions. These hallucinations usually have a negative or depressive theme. Delusions often involve themes of guilt, worthlessness, or personal inadequacy.

Risk Factors:

Genetic predisposition, hormonal changes, neurotransmitter imbalances, environmental stressors, and trauma or abuse history are some of the risk factors that contribute to various mental health conditions.he development of psychotic depression.


The recommended treatment for psychotic depression involves a combination of antidepressant and antipsychotic medications, along with psychotherapy such as cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) and supportive therapy. Effective treatment can lead to significant improvement in symptoms and overall functioning.


With appropriate treatment, many individuals with psychotic depression can experience substantial relief from their symptoms. However, without proper intervention, psychotic depression can lead to significant impairment and increased risk of adverse outcomes such as suicide.

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Schizophrenia is a long-term mental illness that affects how a person thinks, feels, and behaves. People with this disorder often experience psychosis, including delusions and hallucinations. Schizophrenia is a neurodegenerative disorder and often needs a community health team to manage.

Lifestyle interventions can contribute to a positive outcome. Moreover, advancements in telehealth now allow for remote monitoring of symptoms, making it easier for healthcare providers to adjust treatment plans in real time.

Digital mental health apps are emerging as useful tools for symptom tracking, enabling individuals and their healthcare providers to identify triggers and patterns that may precede a psychotic episode.

Delusions and Hallucinations

Being delusional might not sound so bad, but under psychosis, this sign is a serious occurrence. Delusions and hallucinations are both forms of psychosis symptoms. Delusions are false beliefs, such as thinking one has special powers, while hallucinations involve perceiving things that are not present, such as hearing voices.

Recognizing these symptoms early is crucial, as timely intervention can prevent a full-blown psychotic episode and improve long-term outcomes.

Treating Psychosis

Unfortunately, treating psychosis isn’t as easy as taking a pill. It usually involves medication, psychotherapy, and support from family and friends. Different treatments may be more effective depending on the underlying mental health conditions. Antipsychotic medications are generally used for immediate relief from psychosis symptoms, while cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can be effective in the longer term.

Causes And Types of Psychosis: Who Is Vulnerable

Psychosis can be caused by a variety of factors, such as severe stress, trauma, substance abuse, or underlying medical conditions. Genetics can also play a contributing role, as some people may be more susceptible to developing psychosis due to a family history of mental illnesses.

The National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics found that approximately 20% of Australians experience a mental health condition every year. Among these, illnesses such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, severe depression, and borderline personality disorder are often associated with symptoms of psychosis.

Research in Australia indicates that young adults, specifically those aged 18 to 24, are more susceptible to their first psychotic episode. This is in line with the increased occurrence of depression and anxiety experienced by individuals in this age group.

Additionally, socioeconomic factors such as unemployment and low education levels increase risk of psychosis as they often lead to lack of purpose and direction in life.

Brief Psychotic Disorder

Brief psychotic disorder is a mental health condition distinguished by sudden psychotic symptoms like delusions, hallucinations, and incoherent speech. These symptoms typically last for a short period, often less than a month, and usually resolve independently or with treatment.

Drug or Alcohol Psychosis

Brief psychotic disorder is a mental health condition characterised by sudden onset of psychotic symptoms such as delusions, hallucinations, and disorganised speech. These symptoms are typically short-lived, lasting for less than a month, and are treatable.

Organic Psychosis

Organic psychosis is a type of psychosis that is caused by physical or medical conditions such as brain injury, tumours, or neurological diseases like Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s. Treating the underlying medical condition can help alleviate the symptoms of organic psychosis. Still, sometimes, antipsychotic medication may be necessary for immediate relief.

Treatments for Psychosis

When someone is being treated for psychosis, a team of specialists is involved. This team may include doctors, psychologists, and community support workers. They work together to provide the best care possible. Community mental health teams offer medical and psychological treatments that are tailored to the individual’s needs. These treatments may include medication, counselling, and practical support.

Prescription Medications

Antipsychotic medications are commonly prescribed to manage psychotic symptoms, such as hallucinations and delusions. These medicines can also help stabilise mood, which can lead to an improved quality of life for those experiencing psychosis. However, they do come with drawbacks such as weight gain, drowsiness, and an increased risk of diabetes.

It’s important to note that finding the right medication and dosage can take some time, but the benefits of antipsychotic medicines can be significant.

In addition, combining antipsychotic medications with other therapy forms can help individuals better interact with their community and improve their overall well-being.

Rapid Tranquilisation

During a psychotic episode, it is possible for some individuals to become extremely agitated or violent.

In such cases, rapid tranquilisation may be necessary to help calm the patient. This involves administering a fast-acting medication, which can be injected into the muscle or vein, to alleviate symptoms quickly.

However, rapid tranquilisation is generally considered a last resort, as it can carry potential risks, such as respiratory problems. Therefore, healthcare professionals should closely monitor the patient’s condition to avoid complications such as arrhythmias or lowered oxygen levels in the blood.

It is important to seek immediate medical attention if you or someone you know experiences such symptoms.

Psychological Therapy

Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) is a commonly used treatment approach that is often combined with medication to help patients who experience psychosis. CBT aims to help patients understand their thoughts and thinking patterns, manage stress, and enhance their problem-solving skills.

It is important to note that psychological therapies may take longer to show significant results and may not be immediately effective in crises. However, they offer a more sustainable approach to managing symptoms over time and can significantly improve a patient’s mental health. By teaching patients how to cope with stress and manage their thoughts, CBT can be an effective long-term treatment for psychosis.

Family-focused therapy and art therapy are also increasingly being incorporated into comprehensive psychosis treatment plans. These therapies can be beneficial, as they provide patients with additional tools and resources to manage their symptoms and improve their overall mental health.

Community and Family Help

Psychosis is a serious mental health condition that can cause individuals to lose touch with reality. It can be a challenging experience for both the person affected and their loved ones. However, with the right support and treatment, recovery is possible.

One of the critical factors for a successful recovery from psychosis is having a supportive family and community environment. Mental health teams in the community can provide a range of services, including counselling, employment support, and social skills training, to help individuals with psychosis and their families cope with the challenges they face.

Early intervention is essential for managing psychosis and its underlying causes. Seeking help from a mental health professional can lead to a timely diagnosis and personalised treatment options. A comprehensive treatment plan can help individuals manage symptoms, prevent relapse, and improve their quality of life.

Dangers of Psychotic Episodes

Psychotic episodes can be distressing and potentially dangerous, not only for the person experiencing it but also for those around them.

It is critical to understand that individuals suffering from severe delusions or hallucinations are at a heightened risk of harming themselves or others. Neglect of personal health, accidents, and irrational decisions are also more likely to occur. To prevent any harm, immediate intervention is necessary to protect both the individual and anyone else who may be affected.

Additionally, it is important to note that substance abuse can further exacerbate their mental state and hinder treatment. To ensure the best outcome for the individual, professional help and support must be sought without delay. Remember, prompt action is key to preventing any negative outcomes.

Signs to Seek Professional Medical Help

It’s essential to seek immediate professional help if you or someone you know is experiencing psychotic symptoms. These warning signs include sudden changes in behaviour, social isolation, hallucinations, delusions, incoherent speech, or heightened paranoia. 

In Australia, there are now more options available for remote consultations. Telehealth services can offer a quick and less daunting first step towards professional care. Early intervention can greatly improve outcomes for those experiencing psychotic symptoms, so don’t hesitate to seek help if you need it.

Preparing for a Doctor’s Visit

When visiting a doctor, it is recommended to prepare beforehand by jotting down any observed symptoms, including their frequency and triggers. This practice can significantly aid the doctor in making an accurate diagnosis and recommending an effective treatment plan. Additionally, it is advisable to formulate any relevant questions before the appointment to ensure that you receive comprehensive and satisfactory medical guidance during the visit.


If someone is experiencing a psychotic episode but is reluctant to seek treatment, organizing an intervention can be an important step in helping them. During the intervention, it’s recommended to have a mental health professional present to lead the discussion and offer immediate assessment and recommendations. This can be helpful in providing the necessary support to the person in need.

Myths Regarding Psychosis: True and False

Psychosis is a mental health condition that can be difficult to understand, leading to negative attitudes towards people who experience it. Some people mistakenly believe that those with psychosis are dangerous or that the condition is untreatable. However, these are both myths.

A loss of contact with reality characterises psychosis. A variety of factors, such as stress, trauma, substance abuse, and certain medical conditions, can trigger it. It can cause symptoms such as hallucinations, delusions, disorganised thinking, and impaired cognitive function.

Despite its prevalence, many people with psychosis do not seek treatment due to stigma and misinformation. It is important to challenge these myths and educate others about the reality of psychosis. With proper diagnosis, medication, therapy and support, many people with psychosis can manage their symptoms and live fulfilling lives.

To reduce stigma and improve access to care, it is essential to promote accurate information about psychosis. By raising awareness and providing support for those affected by psychosis, we can help ensure that everyone has the opportunity to live a healthy and fulfilling life

True Facts About Psychosis

  • Psychosis is a symptom, not a standalone illness.

  • Various underlying mental health conditions can cause it.

  • Treatment options are available, often involving a mix of medication and therapy.

  • Most people experiencing psychosis are not violent.

  • Early intervention improves prognosis significantly.

Multiple therapies are being researched to improve treatment, including advancements in pharmacotherapy and neuromodulation techniques like deep brain stimulation.


Let’s delve into some frequently asked questions to clarify further what psychosis is and isn’t.

  • What are the five symptoms of psychosis?
    Hallucinations, delusions, disordered thinking, impaired insight, and social withdrawal.

  • What does psychosis do to a person?
    Psychosis distorts reality, affecting perceptions, thoughts, and behaviors, making daily functioning difficult.

  • What is the main cause of psychosis?
    There’s no single cause; it can arise from mental illnesses, trauma, or substance abuse, among other factors.

  • What are the three stages of psychosis?
    The three stages are prodrome (early warning signs), acute (active phase of symptoms), and recovery (symptoms lessen and functionality improves).

Psychosis: Mental Health Condition Conclusion

Recognising the symptoms of psychosis can be the first and crucial step in seeking appropriate help. 

Psychosis is not just a symptom; it is a sign of an underlying mental illness that requires immediate attention from mental health professionals. Therefore, it is crucial to understand what it is and reach out for help when you or someone you know experiences its symptoms. 

Don’t hesitate! Reach out to your local community mental health team for an assessment and proper treatment options. 

Remember, early intervention can make all the difference in the management and recovery of psychosis.