Psychosis is a psychiatric term, which is commonly agreed to include experiences such as hearing or seeing things with no obvious cause (hallucinations), holding strong and unusual beliefs which other people don't experience or share (delusions) and confused or disturbed thoughts.
What are hallucinations?
Hallucinations are most commonly voices, although they can be sights or smells, with no immediate source. Even though they aren't caused by anything or anybody around, they are experienced as very real and as coming from outside the head. There may be more than one voice and they may come and go. These voices may make it hard for the person to concentrate and they may ridicule, threaten or command them.
What are delusions?
Delusions are very strongly held beliefs that others can see as unfounded or irrational. The ideas can't easily be explained as part of the background, culture or religion of those who experience them. Some delusions can be very frightening for people who feel that someone is trying to control or harm them. These are called paranoid delusions. For example people may believe that terrorists are plotting to kill them and interpret other's behaviour as communication in a plot. This may lead to avoidance of certain situations as well as extreme suspiciousness and a sense of anger.
Hallucinations and delusions are both common in our society. However, in psychosis they can be experienced as being particularly disruptive or distressing. They can affect everyday life, such as holding conversations, making and keeping relationships and finding and keeping a job. People experiencing psychosis can suffer from longer term emotional and social difficulties.
Sometimes people also experience confused thinking where thoughts or words become jumbled, don't join up properly or don't make sense to other people.
Treatment for psychosis may involve one or a combination of antipsychotic medicines, psychological therapies and social support.
Here at SLaM a patient’s age, diagnosis and previous treatment will help to determine which treatment they will receive. A treatment plan will be tailored individually with the patient and carer if present.
Why do we call it psychosis?
There have been a number of criticisms of the term psychosis, from a variety of perspectives. These include the idea that it is too vague to be of use and is not an illness in the same way that physical illnesses such as diabetes are, that the label stigmatises people and that it doesn't take into account the idea that different cultures do different things in different ways.
Nevertheless it can be of practical use and many patients report that the term is useful as a way of helping them make sense of their difficulties.
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Find out more about psychosis in this short film: