Psychotic disorders

The word “psychosis” is used to describe when someone is having unusual or strange experiences which may be distressing.

Someone experiencing psychosis may have difficulty recognising what’s real and what’s not real.

The way in which a person experiences psychosis can vary greatly from one person to the next.Youth Mental Health Psychosis

Common symptoms of an episode

Unusual beliefs: A person may have strong beliefs or ideas, which don’t seem real to others. These are called delusions. The person may have difficulty accepting those beliefs or ideas are unusual.

Some examples of this are people believing they have extraordinary powers, thinking they are being followed or having a sense that they are being communicated with through TV or the radio.

Hallucinations: Hallucinations involve the five senses and affect the way in which a person interprets the world around them. When the senses are disrupted in this way a person may see, hear, taste, smell or feel things that others don’t.

Confused thinking: When a person experiences psychosis their thoughts can become confused and muddled up, it can be difficult to have a conversation with someone when this is happening because their speech can appear confused and disorganised.

Sometimes the person feels as though their thoughts are racing or that they are slowed down in some way.

Changed behaviour: The person may have difficulty performing usual activities like schoolwork, paid work or hobbies. They may become more socially withdrawn or isolated.

Sometimes the person may behave in an unusual manner; if they believe they are being followed they may act suspiciously or seem to be frightened; if they’re hearing voices they may seem to be talking to people that aren’t there.


Schizophrenia describes a serious mental health problem characterised by disturbances in a person’s thoughts, perceptions, emotions and behaviour.

It’s thought to affect around one in every hundred people worldwide and first onset commonly occurs in adolescence or early adulthood, although it can also occur later in life.


Psychosis is more common. It’s an umbrella term that includes a range of disorders, such as schizophrenia, drug-induced psychosis, bipolar disorder with psychotic symptoms etc.

What are the symptoms of schizophrenia?

There are a number of signs and symptoms that are characteristic of schizophrenia. However, the expression of these symptoms varies greatly from one individual to another.

No one symptom is common to all people and not everyone who displays these symptoms has schizophrenia (as some physical conditions can mimic schizophrenia).

Generally speaking, symptoms are divided into two groups:

  • Active symptoms (also referred to as positive or psychotic symptoms) that reflect new or unusual forms of thought and behaviour, such as delusions or hallucinations.
  • Passive symptoms (also referred to as negative symptoms), which reflect a change in previous feelings and abilities.

Examples of passive symptoms include limited emotion, inability to experience pleasure, lack of desire to form relationships and lack of motivation. Schizophrenia does not mean someone has more than one personality or ‘split personalities’.

Getting help

If psychosis or schizophrenia is something you are worried about as a parent, talk to your son or daughter about things you have noticed that have led you to become worried.

Your GP

The first usual place to seek help around psychosis and schizophrenia is through your GP. They will be able to advise and refer on to appropriate health professionals, usually involving a psychiatrist.

Treatment of psychosis and schizophrenia often involves medication but support from friends and family is hugely important too.

Often managed successfully

Psychosis and schizophrenia can be managed successfully, especially if help is sought early. An estimated 25% of people who develop psychosis will never have another episode and another 50% may have more than one episode but will be able to live meaningful lives.

A small minority of people who develop psychosis may need ongoing support or treatment throughout their lives. Shine is the national support group for those affected by schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. They provide a range of information, support and other professional services for the general public.

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