Posted: Jul 05 2021

Affecting the way the brain perceives and processes information, psychosis can lead to hallucinations and delusional thoughts - a frightening and confusing experience. It can occur for a number of reasons, but it is a state that is often associated with a mental illness.


Dr Michael Musker, Senior Research Fellow for Mental Health and Wellbeing at SAHMRI says that although it can mean a person loses insight into what is happening to them, some people can live successful and fulfilling lives whilst living with a psychotic type disorder.

Signs and symptoms

Psychosis affects people in different ways, and Dr Musker says that not everyone will have the same symptoms.

Dr Musker says that a typical psychotic symptom is believing that people can read your thoughts, or that others are influencing the way your body is behaving.

“When delusions are combined with auditory hallucinations (usually external voices that confirm these beliefs) then this can mess with your hold on reality,” Dr Musker says.

Some typical symptoms may include:

  • difficulty in concentrating and thinking
  • odd behaviour, strange speech, or unusual movements
  • strange thinking, thought blocking, thought insertion, disorganised speech (switching topics eratically)
  • hallucinations (mostly hearing voices), weird sensations or smells
  • delusions – false beliefs that are very odd to others
  • responding to voices (e.g. in the vents, walls or television)
  • anxiety and distress
  • suspiciousness and paranoia (people spying on them or trying to poison them)
  • withdrawal from family and friends
  • being scared, edgy and frightened, feelings of impending doom
  • suicidal thoughts or actions.

Causes of psychosis

Psychotic disorders are considered to be of genetic origin and science is honing in on the specific genes responsible. The genetic code only creates a risk of getting the disorder in what is called a ‘predisposition’. It is the interaction between a gene and lifestyle factors which generates the disorder.

"Psychosis is not necessarily an illness of itself," Dr Musker says. “It is usually associated with the symptoms of a mental or physical illness, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or psychotic depression, a brain disease or tumour, or some kinds of dementia. It can also be induced by drug abuse, particularly methamphetamines or cannabis, or in some cases by a very stressful event in someone’s life."

When should I seek support from a professional?

Psychosis can be supported by a combination of medications and therapy. Because it is often a sign of a more serious illness, it is important that anyone suffering from psychosis seeks medical support and guidance.

“If you think you or someone you know may be suffering psychosis, it is important to seek medical help or to speak with someone about how you are feeling," Dr Musker says. "The earlier the intervention, the more positive the outcomes are likely to be. A good doctor, psychiatrist or therapist will be able to help you understand what is going on, provide reassurance, and help you through what may be a frightening experience."

Resources and support

HeadspaceHeadspace has a range of services and support material on psychosis, particularly related to the identification and treatment of psychosis in young people.
SANE AustraliaSANE Australia has an in-depth guide on psychosis and how a psychotic episode works.
ReachOutReachOut has useful information to help people better understand psychosis and what you can do if you experience a psychotic episode.
LifelineCall Lifeline on 13 11 14 for an anonymous chat with another support person.
Australia Hearing Voices NetworkAustralia Hearing Voices Network has a range of online forums and support for people who live with hearing voices.

Reviewed by Sarah Davies, registered psychologist.

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Posted: Jul 05 2021


The information contained here is of a general nature and does not take into account your personal medical situation. The information is not a substitute for independent professional medical advice and is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or used for therapeutic purposes. Should you require specific medical information, please seek advice from your healthcare practitioner. Health Partners does not accept any liability for any injury, loss or damage incurred by use of or reliance on the information provided. 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.

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