Understanding psychosis and its effects on mental health

What you need to know if you or someone you care about has psychotic symptoms.

This article is of a general nature only. You should always seek medical advice if you are worried about someone or are experiencing signs or symptoms of psychosis.


Over the course of a lifetime 13 to 23% of people will experience psychotic symptoms at some point, and about 1 to 4% will have a diagnosable psychotic mental illness. 

Jump to section: Signs and symptoms | Types | CausesTreatment | Helping others | Getting support

What is psychosis?

When a person experiences psychosis, their sense of reality changes. They may see, hear, feel or think things that aren’t real.

In most cases, psychotic symptoms are temporary and don’t mean you have a psychotic disorder.

Symptoms of psychosis are treatable. Getting help early improves the chance of a full recovery, so see your GP or mental health professional immediately if you experience symptoms. 

Signs and symptoms of psychosis

Psychotic symptoms can vary from person to person and even from episode to episode. Some of the most common symptoms can include: 


Fervently believing something that is false and irrational, but not shared by people of the same religious or cultural background. Some common examples are thinking they’re being followed or harassed, thinking something is wrong with their body or health, thinking they’re being controlled by an external force.


Feeling, hearing, smelling, tasting, or seeing something that isn’t there but feels real. Hearing voices is one of the most common types of hallucination.

Disorganised thinking

Incoherent, confused, jumbled or slow thinking or speech. The person might abruptly lose their train of thought, say things that don’t make sense, go off on tangents, repeat the same things over and over, have trouble forming sentences or use odd speech patterns, like talking in rhyme. 

Changes to behaviour

Signs include being more agitated, anxious, aggressive, or emotional than usual. You might notice the person acting inappropriately, for example laughing or getting angry for no obvious reason. Or they might neglect their appearance, household chores or work. Some people withdraw from friends or family and become isolated.

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Types of psychosis

Psychotic disorders include schizophrenia, bipolar disorder with psychotic symptoms or depression with psychotic symptoms, among others.

Sometimes people experience short-term psychosis (brief psychotic disorder) after a traumatic event or extreme stress—this can last anywhere from a day to a month.

It’s important to remember that experiencing a psychotic episode does not mean you have a psychotic illness—and in most cases people who have a psychotic experience never develop a disorder.

Sometimes psychotic symptoms are part of underlying health problems including Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, thyroid disease and many others.

Symptoms of psychosis can also  come and go and evolve, and psychotic disorders can change over time as well. You might be diagnosed with a disorder at one point in your life, but the diagnoses could change or no longer apply as your symptoms change.  

What causes psychosis?

Psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder with psychotic symptoms or depression with psychotic symptoms are caused by a combination factors.

Genes play a role, so having a family history of a psychotic disorder increases your risk. Experiencing trauma such as abuse or neglect as a child, delayed development, or extremely stressful events can also increase your risk.

Some prescription medicines and drugs such as cannabis, LSD, mushrooms, MDMA, ice and others can also trigger psychotic episodes, and in some cases they can lead to long term psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia. 

About half of people with a psychotic disorder develop symptoms by the time they’re in their early 20s—the average age of onset is between 18-25 for males and 25-35 for females. 

Treatment for psychosis

Although psychosis can be scary, treatment can help you get back to the things you enjoy and find meaningful. If you have experienced psychotic symptoms, see your doctor or mental health professional immediately. In some cases hospitalisation is necessary and most cases treatment will involve a combination of psychological therapy, medicine, practical support and education. In certain cases there may be a need for further treatments such as electroconvulsive therapy. It’ll also be important to learn strategies to manage stress and avoid drugs to help prevent symptoms from returning. 

Supporting someone who has psychotic symptoms

It can be stressful and intimidating when someone you care about has psychotic symptoms, but your support can make a big difference. Try to help them feel safe and encourage them to see their doctor or mental health professional.

  • Stay as calm as you can, and be gentle with the person
  • Don’t try to argue or persuade them that their ideas are wrong
  • Try to listen as non-judgementally as you can
  • You can ask how they feel, and reassure them that talking about it won’t make it worse.
  • Try to make the environment calm—for example turn down music and try to minimise noise
  • Encourage them to see their GP or mental health professional immediately
  • If the situation is urgent or their symptoms are severe call 000.

Where to get help

If you have experienced psychotic symptoms, see your doctor or mental health professional immediately. If you are concerned about a family member or friend, call 000 if the situation is urgent or their symptoms are severe.

If you need to talk, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or book an appointment with a GP.

Online resources and support

In addition to in-person services, there is also a number of resources and services you can access online, including: 

SANE Australia provides peer support, counselling, information and referrals to adults who identify as having a complex mental health issue, complex trauma or high levels of psychological distress. They also provide support to the family or friends who care about them. Their team of counsellors is available on 1800 18 7263  or email or web chat from 10am to 10pm Monday to Friday AEST. You can also join the community through the moderated SANE Forums 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Black Dog Institute is the only medical research institute in Australia to investigate mental health across the lifespan. They provide resources and supportdigital tools and apps including self-tests for mental health conditions, and clinical services including support groups for conditions like depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder

headspace provides mental health support and services to young people aged 12 to 25 and their families in person at headspace centres across Australia or by online chat or phone through headspace.org.au.

Beyond Blue has a 24/7 national support line where you can talk with a trained mental health professional who will listen, provide information and advice, and point you in the right direction to seek further help on 1300 22 4636.

Our team of mental health professionals are here to support you on our 24/7 Mental Health Phone Support line. It’s available to Medibank members with hospital cover 24 hours a day, 7 days a week on 1800 644 325~.

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Medibank health support and services

As an eligible Medibank member, you get more than just health insurance. You get extra support, when you need it most. 

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Mental Health Phone Support

Members with Hospital cover~ can talk with a mental health professional over the phone in relation to any mental health or emotional concern, 24 hours a day 7 days a week on 1800 644 325.

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New telehealth services

Medibank members with eligible extras can now access telehealth services - including psychology, physiotherapy, dietetics, occupational therapy, podiatry, exercise physiology and speech therapy - and claim for services undertaken from 14 April 2020 until further notice.  Medibank members can also access counselling telehealth services undertaken from 15 October 2020 until further notice, with benefits payable towards Medibank recognised Counsellors only.#

Medibank has a wide range of health and wellbeing services to support eligible members with their mental health.

Further reading

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7 tips to boost your mental health

We look at helpful ways to support your mental health.

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Tips for supporting a friend or loved one during COVID-19

If you have someone in your life who you’re worried might not be coping well, don’t be afraid to check in and let them know you’re there. Here are some things to keep in mind when you do.

Looking for something else?

Visit our Healthy Mind by Medibank homepage to find more tools and services.

Talk to us about your cover and accessing services

Contact Medibank when and how it suits you: online 24/7, in-store, by phone or through the My Medibank app.

Things you need to know

~    OSHC members should call the Student Health and Support Line on 1800 887 283.

#    Check your cover summary to see if these services are included on your extras cover and if any waiting periods or annual limits apply.

While we hope you find this information helpful, please note that it is general in nature. It is not health advice, and is not tailored to meet your individual health needs. You should always consult a trusted health professional before making decisions about your health care. While we have prepared the information carefully, we can’t guarantee that it is accurate, complete or up-to-date. And while we may mention goods or services provided by others, we aren’t specifically endorsing them and can’t accept responsibility for them. For these reasons we are unable to accept responsibility for any loss that may be sustained from acting on this information (subject to applicable consumer guarantees). 

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