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Causes of psychosis

3-minute read

The causes of psychosis are complex and researchers are still trying to understand them fully. However, psychosis is thought to be caused by an interaction between genetic and environmental factors. It's likely that some people are born with a predisposition to develop this kind of illness and that certain things - for example, stress or the use of drugs such as marijuana, LSD or speed - can trigger their first episode.

The main categories of causes of psychosis are:

  • Mental illness: Psychosis can be caused by a mental illness, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or severe depression.
  • Genetics: People with a family history of psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia have a slightly increased chance of developing psychosis. For example, if you have a first degree relative with schizophrenia, you may have a 10% chance of developing psychosis. There is no single gene that causes psychosis, but a number of different genes may increase the likelihood of developing it.
  • Recreational drugs: Psychosis can be triggered by the use of drugs, including cannabis, amphetamines (including speed and ice), LSD (acid), magic mushrooms, ketamine, ecstasy and cocaine.

Can medical conditions cause psychosis?

Some medical conditions have been known to cause psychosis. These include:

There’s also research showing that dopamine may be associated with psychosis. Dopamine is one of the chemicals in the brain that sends information from one brain cell to another. People with psychosis are thought to have dopamine levels that are too high. This could interrupt the pathways in the brain responsible for memory, emotion, social behaviour and self-awareness.

Although the causes are still being uncovered, psychosis is treatable. With medication and support, people with psychosis can recover from their illness.

Where to get help

If you need help, would like to find out more or talk to someone else, here are some organisations that can help:

  • SANE Australia (people living with a mental illness) – call 1800 18 7263.
  • beyondblue (anyone feeling depressed or anxious) – call 1300 22 4636 or chat online.
  • Black Dog Institute (people affected by mood disorders) – online help.
  • Lifeline (anyone having a personal crisis) – call 13 11 14 or chat online.
  • Suicide Call Back Service (anyone thinking about suicide) – call 1300 659 467.

Last reviewed: November 2016

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