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You might think the word psychosis is a bit unsettling. You might think your friend or relative can’t have psychosis because they aren’t ‘mad’ or ‘dangerous’ … or you might be worried that they are and be shocked or frightened. Unfortunately, this may well be because of stigma! We can blame some of that on the media but we can feed into it too. What do you imagine when you think of psychosis? Would you be surprised to know that half of the people pictured in this booklet have psychosis?

Psychosis is not a diagnosis, it’s just a description of a set of experiences. They include things like

  • being paranoid, thinking someone’s laughing at you, talking about you, following you or out to get you, thinking that things on the TV, radio or in newspapers       relate to you, thinking you or someone else are someone they’re not having or having other strange or upsetting thoughts;

  • having what seem like real experiences of hearing, seeing, feeling, smelling, and tasting things that other people don’t.

  • having confused thinking and sometimes speech can get jumbled up too, so that what you say is hard for other people to understand. Speech may go off the topic or include words that are out of place. 

It can be scary at the time, but you can get over it, have a life, a good job, a relationship and a family. You may have seen things on TV or in newspapers about psychosis. Some of this will be true, but it may show or describe the most severe experiences, but a lot of it isn’t true!  TV’s and newspapers like to tell a good story, but in reality everybody’s experience is different. Psychosis happens to normal people, and it’s quite common. Some people think that psychosis is just an extension of anxieties that we all have, which lead you to think and hear things that you’re worried about.

Schizophrenia is not a split personality! Specific diagnoses like Schizophrenia, Schizo-affective disorder, Bipolar disorder, Delusional Disorder, or Drug-Induced Psychosis, all include unusual distressing (psychosis) experiences. They just describe slightly different experiences, like how much your experiences affect your emotions (happiness and sadness), the types of unusual experiences you have, how long they last and how much they affect your life overall.

There are two main stages of psychosis: an acute phase when the person experiences the sorts of things we’ve just described; and a recovery stage. In the recovery stage your friend or relative might have:

  • similar beliefs and experiences but they may be less upsetting and affect them less;

  • they may also feel that they’ve lost motivation, energy and interest in things. They may spend a lot of time sleeping or not really doing anything;

  • they may lose interest in their appearance;

  • they may stop washing, cooking or looking after themselves;

  • they may struggle or not want to do things that they used to do like working, going to college, seeing friends or family;

  • they may say that things don’t feel quite right or how they used to be;

  • they may feel flat, depressed, empty, flat, angry about what has happened or worried about things getting worse again;

  • they may feel trapped, embarrassed or a failure because of psychosis;

  • they may seem withdrawn and quiet;

  • and they may have on-going problems with thinking, planning, organising and remembering things.

This stage can be difficult because you want to see your friend or relative like they used to be and doing the things they used to do but this stage is a process that can take different amounts of time for different people. It may take weeks, or months or even longer and some people will take a different path in life following psychosis, and never go back to things they were doing previously at all. Some times this is a good thing as it reduces things that were stressful that led to psychosis in the first place. What you do as a friend or relative is really important here: providing the right support, understanding, or encouragement without pushing or creating too much stress can really make a difference.

Psychosis episodes can be very short (e.g. a week) or can last a lot longer. Recovery can also take weeks or months. Most people who have a first episode of psychosis will recover, although a smaller proportion (about 10-30%) will continue to have on-going problems. Quite a few people will have a second episode at some point, but recognising the early signs can reduce the impact of this and needn’t stop your friend or relative from getting on with their life.   

The EYE Project is a research project supported by:

Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, Swandean, Arundel Road, Worthing, West Sussex, BN13 3EP