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People with psychosis experience an altered sense of reality. They have difficulty with the way they interpret the world around them, and their thinking can be confused. They may experience hallucinations, such as hearing voices that aren’t there, or delusions, such as believing they have special powers.

Psychosis may be caused by a mental illness, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or severe depression. It can also be induced by drug use, or less commonly in response to a stressful event. Psychosis affects people differently.

The causes of psychosis are still being uncovered. There is no one cause, and researchers believe a combination of biological, genetic, social and environmental factors is involved. It may be associated with a chemical imbalance in the brain. Stress and some drugs (for example, marijuana, speed or LSD) can trigger the first episode of psychosis.

Treatment is available for people with psychosis. Medication, psychological therapy and community support can help reduce symptoms, allowing people to live a normal life. It’s important to talk to a doctor if you think you may have symptoms of psychosis.

In severe cases, someone with psychosis may be at risk of self-harm, or harming others. About 3% of people will experience psychosis at some time in their lives. A first episode of psychosis is most likely to happen in a person's late teens or early adult years.

If you or someone you know has attempted or is at risk of attempting to harm themselves or someone else, please call triple zero (000).

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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