System of Care- Community for Early Signs and Symptoms

What is Psychosis?

Psychosis is a medical condition that affects your brain and keeps it from working well. 

  • Perceptions are altered, making things that are not real seem real.

  • Thinking becomes jumbled and unrealistic ideas develop.

  • Feelings and emotions towards self, others or the outside world change or are exaggerated.  1

  • Becoming overwhelmed by sights and sounds of things around them. 

Psychosis is a cluster of symptoms that can occur in a number of medical disorders, or sometimes as a consequence of drug or alcohol use.

Disorders that psychosis can occur in:

  • Bipolar Disorder

  • Brief Reactive Psychosis

  • Delusional Disorder

  • Drug-Induced Psychosis

  • Major Depression

  • Organic Trauma

  • Postpartum Psychosis

  • Schizophrenia

  • Schizophreniform Disorder

  • Schizoaffective Disorder


Phases and Symptoms of Psychosis

Phase 1: Prodrome

  • Clear signs of psychosis have not yet appeared

  • Signs are enough to make someone feel different and often seem different to those that know them well.

  • Signs may be seen as normal adolescent behavior or “just a phase.”

  • Early signs:

    • Feeling sad or depressed most of the time

    • Withdrawal from family and friends

    • Lower school performance

    • Irritability

    • Reduced energy or motivation

    • Feeling paranoid or suspicious about other people

    • Noticing a change in the way things look or sound

    • Noticing things that other people don’t notice

      • Shadows, people following them, hidden messages, etc.

    • Feeling anxious

    • Memory or concentration difficulties

    • Trouble sleeping

Phase 2: Acute

  • Signs are harder to miss as they interfere with a young person’s day-to-day functioning.

  • People lose touch with reality.

  • Thoughts, feelings, and perceptions can be seriously affected

  • Positive symptoms may begin (something added):

    • Hallucinations- seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling or feeling things that are not there

    • Delusions- false beliefs that have no evidence of being true

      • Being followed

      • Having special powers

      • Thoughts are being controlled by others

      • Hidden messages in songs or on television that are for them

  • Negative symptoms may begin (something missing)

    • Loss of energy or motivation

    • Loss of skills the individual had

    • Social withdrawal

    • Poor diet or hygiene

  • Disorganized symptoms (something changed

    • affect the ability to plan, make decisions, complete task, follow conversation, or remember details

  • Emotional symptoms

    • Speech may lack inflection

    • Expressions that may not be appropriate to their feelings

    • Laughing at a sad story

    • Becoming angry or upset for no reason

  • Behavioral symptoms

    • Muttering aloud

    • Shouting or swearing in public

    • Dressing inappropriately (wearing heavy coats in the summer)

    • Withdrawal from family and friends

    • Poor hygiene

    • Sitting around all day

    • Staying up all night

    • Increased suicidal ideations

Phase 3: Recovery

  • Psychosis is treatable

  • Individuals need to find treatment that works the best for them.  Everyone’s treatment is different. 2

Myths and Facts About Psychosis


Myth: Psychosis is the result of bad parenting.

Fact: Most experts agree that genetics, substance use, stress, and other risk factors may lead to psychosis.

Myth: People with psychosis are lazy.

Fact: Psychosis is a medical disorder that affects the brain.  Like any other injury, the brain needs to heal.  The might mean that the person sleeps a lot, not that they’re lazy.

Myth: People with psychosis are “stupid”.

Fact: The person’s learning difficulties may be due to the illness, not lack of intelligence.

Myth: Psychosis results from a personality weakness or character flaw.

Fact: Psychosis has nothing to do with being weak.  It results from changes in the way the brain works.  Medication and psychosocial therapies can help. 3

Myth: Psychosis can’t happen to me.

Fact: Almost anyone who has to deal with stress could develop psychosis.  In addition, research has shown that if a person has related family members who have experienced psychosis, that person can have a stronger chance of developing psychosis.

Myth: People with a condition like psychosis do bad things.

Fact: It is very rare for people with psychosis to commit serious crimes.  In fact, many people with psychosis are very shy and can be fearful of others.  People with psychosis who do bad things usually do those things as a result of bad habits.  The unfortunate reality is that people who have psychosis are more often the victims of crime than the perpetrators of crime.  People with psychosis are more likely to be robbed, abused, or assaulted than people without psychosis. 

Myth: If you have psychosis, you’ll never be a “normal” person.

Fact: It’s likely that the more you think about the person or people who can be described as “normal” in your life and what they do or how they do it, the more you’ll notice that those people have all sorts of quirks and habits that make them somehow different than others.  Really, it’s more “normal” to seem different and to feel different from others than it is to feel or look like you fit in 100% of the time.  4

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Listed below are several organizations that have information, fact sheets, infographs, and other resources that discuss psychosis. 


Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)

*Understanding a First Episode of Psychosis Young Adult: Get the Facts

*Understanding a First Episode of Psychosis Caregiver: Get the Facts

National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors:

*Early Psychosis Helping Your Family Member  

Early Psychosis Intervention Ontario Network:

*The Anatomy of First Episode Psychosis

*What Can You Do For Students with Psychosis

*Myths and Facts About Psychosis

*Early Psychosis Intervention

*What is Psychosis?  


*Psychosis and Young People  

The Campaign to Change Direction

*Five Signs of Emotional Suffering

Orygen Youth Health

*Psychosis and Young People

*Medications for Psychosis

*Physical Health and Psychosis

*What is Psychosis?

*Getting Help Early

*Recovering from Psychosis

*How Can I Help Someone with Psychosis?

Mental Health America

*Life with Psychosis Infographic

Psychosis 101

*Psychosis Myths and Misinformation

Early Psychosis Intervention

*Dealing with Psychosis Toolkit

*What is Psychosis?

*What Can You Do About Psychosis?

*Dealing with Symptoms

*Causes of Psychosis

*Early Intervention

*Stress Management

*Phases of Psychosis

*Treatment for Psychosis


*Preventing Relapse


Coping Skills

  1. Psychosis and young people [PDF]. (n.d.).

  2. Early Pyschosis Helping You Family Member [PDF]. (n.d.). British Columbia Schizophrenia Society  2013.

  3. Myths and Facts about Psychosis [PDF]. (2015, October). The Early Psychosis Intervention Ontario Network.

  4.  Psychosis Myths and Misinformation [PDF]. (2013). Psychosis 101.

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This project, publication/report/etc. was developed [in part] under grant number 1H79SM063402-01 from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The views, policies, and opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of SAMHSA or HHS.

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