Understanding Psychosis

According to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), the word psychosis “is used to describe conditions that affect the mind, in which people have trouble distinguishing between what is real and what is not.” Psychosis is described by some as a “break from reality.” An episode of psychosis can feel very scary for the person experiencing it and can be very disruptive to their life; it can affect a person’s perception, thoughts, and behaviours. Some people experience psychosis on a regular basis. For others, psychosis can be a one-time event or can happen irregularly.

Psychosis is not a disorder itself. Rather, it is a syndrome or a grouping of symptoms that serve as an indicator that there is something else wrong. We mentioned earlier that psychosis is one of the symptoms of schizophrenia, however there are many  mental health issues that can induce a psychotic episode. Psychosis can also be a symptom of a serious medical condition, so paying attention to the signs could potentially save a life.

The following are some illness/situations that can be accompanied by psychosis.

  • Schizoaffective disorder
  • Bipolar
  • Depression
  • Postpartum depression/psychosis
  • Substance use
  • Alcohol withdrawal
  • Brain injury
  • Dementia
  • Starvation, people with eating disorders can experience psychosis
  • Sleep deprivation

If you don’t know someone’s diagnosis and you see symptoms of psychosis, it’s important not to assume you know exactly what is happening. Instead simply support them where they are at and seek support if you need it.

Since psychosis can be a symptom of a serious medical condition. Paying attention to these signs could perhaps save a life.

Breaking Down Stigma

There is a lot of stigma and discrimination for people who experience psychosis. One harmful stereotype – that is blown up and encouraged by the media – is that someone experiencing the symptoms of a psychotic episode will be violent. In reality, someone in this state is statistically more likely to be hurt or victimized by someone else, than they are to inflict violence on another person.

As peer support workers, it is very important to work at noticing and dispelling harmful stereotypes, and breaking down that destructive stigma.

Common Symptoms

Below are some of the main symptoms of psychosis. Usually, psychosis involves a grouping of these symptoms. While we covered some basics of these in the symptoms of schizophrenia, as mentioned psychosis is not relegated to schizophrenia:

  • Hallucinations: When someone sees things that others around them aren’t seeing. Hallucinations can include visions, tastes, smells, sounds, and sensations. Emotions and feelings can feel mixed up, people can be confused.
  • Delusions: A delusion is an unsubstantiated, strong, firmly held belief. Other people’s perceptions and experiences can’t affirm the belief. Someone could think that they are a more powerful person than they are. Special powers or abilities can be part of a delusion. Or someone may have a delusion that they are being unfairly targeted by someone, a group of people, or perhaps a famous organization. Paranoia and elevated fear can come with delusions. This feels very real to a person experiencing this.
    Often, we find ourselves having different beliefs than other people. It is only considered a delusion when it begins to affect our ability to manage daily life.
  • Disorganized thinking and speech: Thoughts can move rapidly. They can be disjointed and jump all over the place. It can be hard to understand someone’s speech when they are experiencing psychosis. Receiving written words, such as texts, from someone experiencing psychosis can be very hard to understand and can seem very confusing.


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Post-Secondary Peer Support Training Curriculum Copyright © 2022 by Jenn Cusick is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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