Psychosis is an altered state of mind in which it is hard for you to tell what is real. You might hear voices in your head or believe someone is wanting to harm you.

Because psychosis is distressing and can distort your experience of reality, you might feel like hurting yourself or someone else. That means it’s important to get help. There are treatments and support available and the sooner you seek help, the more these can help you.

If you or someone else is at immediate risk of harming themselves or another person, call 111. If there is no immediate risk, contact your family doctor.

Key points

  • You are more likely to have a first psychotic episode when you are between 15 and 25 years’ old.
  • There are different issues, resources and services for young people with psychosis.
  • You may experience a one-off psychotic episode or it may recur over time.
  • Psychosis is likely to be caused by an underlying mental or physical illness.
  • If you experience psychosis, you are at greater risk of suicide.
  • The earlier you receive help, the better the outcome. 

What are the causes of psychosis?

Psychosis can be triggered by:

  • a mental illness, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or depression
  • a physical condition that affects your brain, such as a stroke, brain tumour or dementia
  • a significant head injury
  • using drugs such as cannabis, synthetic cannabis or methamphetamines (P) heavily for a long time during your teenage years.

What are the symptoms of psychosis?

  • Delusions – false or irrational beliefs that people from your family and culture do not usually hold but that you hold onto rigidly.
  • Hallucinations – experiences of hearing, seeing, smelling, tasting, or touching something that isn’t there, such as voices telling you to do something.
  • Confused thinking – such as difficulty concentrating, paying attention and remembering things, jumbled thinking or thoughts seeming faster or slower than usual.
  • Withdrawing from your friends and family.
  • Low motivation to look after yourself or plan to do things.
  • Feeling numb and not talking much.

How is psychosis diagnosed?

If you are concerned about any of the above symptoms, contact your family doctor. Doctors are used to talking to people about this kind of thing and will know how to best help you. They will ask you about your:

  • physical and mental health history
  • drug and alcohol use
  • any family history of mental illness
  • recent major or stressful events in your life.

They may also ask for blood and urine tests, and refer you to a psychiatrist or community mental health services, where you may be asked to have a CT scan or MRI scan.

What is the treatment for psychosis?               

Treatment may include:

  • Medication, such as an antipsychotic drug.
  • Other medication to help reduce depression, anxiety, agitation or insomnia.
  • Psychological therapy.
  • Social support for any other problems you have in your life.

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:

  • Taking any medication prescribed by your doctor.
  • Avoiding 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.

What support is available?

For ongoing support, see your family doctor, your contact person at community mental health services or your psychiatrist or psychotherapist.

If you need urgent help, phone:

  • Lifeline 0800 543 354 (available 24/7), or
  • Healthline 0800 611 116, who can give you the phone number for your local mental health crisis line.

Learn more

Psychosis Supporting Families in Mental Illness, NZ
Psychosis NHS Choices, UK


  1. Early intervention for psychosis in New Zealand The New Zealand Medical Journal, 2004
  2. Psychosis – diagnosis and management PatientPlus UK

Credits: Health Navigator Editorial Team. Reviewed By: Dr Robert Marchl, Psychiatrist, Auckland Last reviewed: 27 Feb 2018