In the U.S., approximately 100,000 young people experience psychosis each year. As many as 3 in 100 people will have an episode at some point in their lives.

Get a Quick Glimpse

What Is It?

Psychosis is characterized as disruptions to a person’s thoughts and perceptions that make it difficult for them to recognize what is real and what is not. Disruptions are often experienced as seeing, hearing, and believing things that are not real or having strange, persistent thoughts, behaviors, and emotions. Psychosis is a symptom, not an illness.

The Science Behind It

Several factors that can contribute to psychosis:

  • Genetics. Many genes can contribute to the development of psychosis, but just because a person has a gene doesn’t mean they will experience psychosis. Ongoing studies will help us better understand which genes play a role in psychosis.
  • Trauma. A traumatic event such as a death, war or sexual assault can trigger a psychotic episode. The type of trauma—and a person’s age—affects whether a traumatic event will result in psychosis.
  • Substance use. The use of marijuana, LSD, amphetamines and other substances can increase the risk of psychosis in people who are already vulnerable.
  • Physical illness or injury. Traumatic brain injuries, brain tumors, strokes, HIV and some brain diseases such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and dementia can sometimes cause psychosis.
  • Mental health conditions. Sometimes psychosis is a symptom of a condition like schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, bipolar disorder or depression.

Warning Signs

It's important to get help quickly since early diagnosis provides the results for treatment by slowing, stopping and possibly reversing the effects of psychosis. Early warning signs include the following:

  • A worrisome drop in grades or job performance
  • Trouble thinking clearly or concentrating
  • Suspiciousness or uneasiness with others
  • A decline in self-care or personal hygiene
  • Spending a lot more time alone than usual
  • Strong, inappropriate emotions or having no feelings at all
  • Hearing, seeing, tasting or believing things that others don’t
  • Persistent, unusual thoughts or beliefs that can’t be set aside regardless of what others believe
  • Strong and inappropriate emotions or no emotions at all
  • Withdrawing from family or friends
  • A sudden decline in self-care
  • Trouble thinking clearly or concentrating

Psychosis includes a range of symptoms but typically involves one of these two major experiences:

Hallucinations are seeing, hearing or feeling things that aren’t there, such as the following:

  • Hearing voices (auditory hallucinations)
  • Strange sensations or unexplainable feelings
  • Seeing glimpses of objects or people that are not there or distortions

Delusions are strong beliefs that are not consistent with the person’s culture, are unlikely to be true and may seem irrational to others, such as the following:

  • Believing external forces are controlling thoughts, feelings and behaviors
  • Believing that trivial remarks, events or objects have personal meaning or significance
  • Thinking you have special powers, are on a special mission or even that you are God.

Common Misconceptions

A person with psychotic symptoms is dangerous

People experiencing psychosis may behave strangely, they may hear voices, or see things that don’t exist. They may be frightened, confused or withdrawn. It is more likely these people will harm themselves than someone else.


Peer support

  • Speak and support others immediately
  • Take a psychosis screening questionnaire

Family support and education

  • If something feels wrong take immediate steps to understand, be supportive and seek help.  


  • Have a trusted therapist experienced in psychosis and share honestly.
  • Coordinated Specialty Care (CSC) is valuable.  This uses a team of health professionals and specialists who work with a person to create a personal treatment plan based on life goals while involving family members as much as possible.  All should be communicating with one another continually as medicines and their effectiveness can change
  • Psychotherapy is based on cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) which helps people solve their current problems.  The CBT therapist helps the patient learn how to identify distorted or unhelpful thinking patterns, recognize and change inaccurate beliefs, relate to others in more positive ways and change problematic behaviors.

Medication management:

  • Medication should always be paired with trusted weekly therapy to accurately determine if the medicine is working.  The psychiatrist and therapist should be working in tandem to accurately understand the person’s emotional health.
  • Like all medications, antipsychotic drugs have risks and benefits. Clients should talk with their health care providers about side effects, medication costs, and dosage preferences (daily pill or monthly injection).

Go Deeper

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Medical Disclaimer: Brain Health Bootcamp aims to promote education and awareness of mental health conditions among adolescents, families, and educators. We publish material that is researched, cited, and drawn from sources reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.