Psychosis is when your perception of reality is changed and you find it hard to know what is real. During a psychotic episode, you may experience delusions (strange beliefs) and/or hallucinations (seeing, hearing, smelling, sensing things that other can’t).
A psychotic episode is most likely to first happen in your teenage years or early twenties. There are different issues, resources and services available for young people experiencing psychosis. See also our page on psychosis in adults.
A psychotic episode can make you want to harm yourself or someone else. If you or someone else is at immediate risk of doing that, call 111. Otherwise, contact your family doctor.
- During a psychotic episode you might hear voices in your head, believe someone is interfering with your thoughts or think someone is going to harm you.
- You may find it hard to think properly and cope well with your day-to-day life.
- You might just have one episode or multiple episodes over your lifetime.
- Your symptoms may be mild at first and increase over time.
- The sooner you get help, the better your mental health will be in the long term.
- Although psychosis is scary, it’s quite common and can be treated.
What causes psychosis?
A psychotic episode can be triggered by:
- a mental health condition, such as depression, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia
- a physical illness affecting your brain, such as epilepsy or migraine
- overuse of drugs or alcohol or withdrawing from them
- a traumatic or stressful event, such as abuse, being bullied or a big life change.
What are the symptoms of psychosis?
- Confused or paranoid thinking.
- Delusions – bizarre beliefs that people from your background don’t usually believe.
- Hallucinations – hearing, seeing, smelling, tasting, or touching something that isn’t actually there.
- Feeling numb and not talking much.
- Withdrawing from your friends and family.
- Not taking proper care of your sleep, food and personal hygiene.
- No motivation to do the things you usually enjoy.
- Changing your behaviour in other ways.
How is psychosis diagnosed?
If you are concerned that your perception of reality might have changed or are troubled by any of the other symptoms above, talk to your family doctor (GP). GPs are used to talking to people about this kind of thing and will know what support you need.
Your doctor will ask about:
- any recent major or stressful events
- physical and mental health history
- drug and alcohol use
- any family history of mental illness.
They may also ask for blood and urine tests, an X-ray and for you to see a mental health specialist.
What is the treatment for psychosis?
Your doctor may recommend:
- Medication, such as an antipsychotic or drugs to reduce depression, anxiety or insomnia.
- Psychological therapy on your own or in a group with other young people.
- Social support for any other problems you might be experiencing.
What can I do to help myself?
It’s important that you don’t try and get through this on your own. You can help yourself by:
- Telling your friends and family that you need them to support you.
- Checking out the resources below.
- Taking any medication prescribed by your doctor.
- Not using drugs or alcohol.
- Avoiding stressful events or people you find difficult.
- Getting plenty of sleep and eating well.
- Having a plan for who to contact if you start to feel unwell.
Where can I find support?
For ongoing support, see your family doctor, your contact person at community mental health services or your psychiatrist or psychotherapist. Learn more about mental health services for youth.
If you need urgent help, phone:
- Lifeline 0800 543 354 (available 24/7), or
- Youthline 0800 376 633, 234 free text or email email@example.com
- Healthline 0800 611 116, who can give you the phone number for your local mental health crisis line.
Psychosis Youthline NZ