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.

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: 

Delusions

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.

Hallucinations

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

The best place to start is by speaking to your GP or health practitioner. They will be able to assess your individual situation and recommend the best next steps for your recovery.

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~.

If at any point you feel like someone’s life is in danger, seek immediate help. Contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 for crisis support and call 000 if you believe that someone’s life is in danger.

For more support and information

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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

Seeking help: the basics                                 

Where to go for help to navigate a mental health issue.

Bipolar disorder                                                       

Discover the signs and symptoms of bipolar disorder, and what you can do about it.

Depression                                 

Depression or just a bit down? Here’s how to tell the difference and what you can do to improve your mental wellbeing. 

Symptoms of PTSD include re-living the traumatic event, and feeling emotionally numb.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Around 12% of Australians experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in their lifetime. Learn what causes it and how to deal with it.

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.  Counsellors must be registered with Australian Counselling Association, Psychotherapy and Counselling Federation of Australia, Australian Traditional Medicine Society.   

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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