Psychosis: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

man looking at a skull

For most people, distinguishing between reality and fantasy is a straightforward task, fundamental to daily functioning. But for those with psychosis symptoms, it can be difficult or impossible to tell what’s real and what’s not.

Due to misinformation and negative stigma around mental health disorders and symptoms, many people assume that psychosis is a rare or untreatable phenomenon. But it’s more common than you probably think, and preventing future episodes is achievable.

Every year, 100,000 adolescents and young adults face their first psychotic episode. And 3 out of every 100 people will have a psychotic episode in their lifetime.

In recent years, researchers have even explored the possible link between COVID-19 and psychotic behavior. It’s clear that breaking through the myths, stigma, and misunderstandings is more important than ever.

Every year, 100,000 adolescents and young adults face their first psychotic episode. And 3 out of every 100 people will have a psychotic episode in their lifetime. Click To Tweet


Psychosis is defined as a temporary inability to discern what is real and what isn’t. Thoughts and perceptions may be skewed in a variety of ways:

  • Delusions: You may hold beliefs that aren’t true. Examples include thinking you have special powers or are under surveillance, without any proof of the suspicion.
  • Disordered thinking: This can manifest in jumbled or illogical thoughts, or incoherent speech.
  • Hallucinations: These can be auditory (hearing noises or voices), visual (seeing things that aren’t there), or sensory (such as feeling bugs crawling on skin). Less commonly, they can involve imaginary smells or tastes.
  • Disorganization: This leads to unpredictable, agitated behaviors.
  • Trouble concentrating: You may notice an inability to maintain focus.
  • Catatonia: This is marked by abnormal movements or lack of movement and decreased responsiveness.

Meanwhile, early psychosis, also called first-episode psychosis, describes the individual’s first break with reality. Don’t ignore or overlook the warning signs—early detection leads to earlier treatment, and thus better mental health outcomes. And, no matter how long symptoms have persisted, it’s crucial to seek help.

Symptoms of early psychosis to watch out for include:

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Being suspicious of others
  • Spending an unusual amount of time alone
  • Poor school or work performance
  • Neglecting self-care (such as not showering)
  • Changes in emotional responses
  • Difficulty with sleeping

Psychosis symptoms fall on a spectrum, from mild to severe. Some people may experience a level of impairment that can affect their ability to function in daily life. Due to the symptoms listed above, they may be unable to maintain interpersonal relationships, attend work or school, or meet their basic physical needs.

Keep in mind that those having a psychotic episode are not necessarily more likely to become violent or dangerous toward others. However, according to a study published in Psychiatry Research, psychotic experiences among U.S. adults are associated with higher odds for accidents and injuries—yet another reason why early treatment is essential.


People who exhibit symptoms of psychosis and early psychosis simply have brains that work differently. These disorders are complex, involving multiple areas of the brain.

Psychosis can point to a lack of integration, or increased segregation, among the different brain regions. It’s possible that connections within the brain are not working properly. There may be interruptions in the way neurons communicate with each other across different brain regions.

Ultimately, more research is needed, but we know there are many factors that can contribute to psychosis and early psychosis. One possible contributing factor is genetics, since having a close relative with these symptoms increases the risk.

Others may have a psychotic episode triggered by a traumatic event or a traumatic brain injury. Strokes, brain tumors, and chronic infections like Lyme disease can also change the brain and thus trigger a psychotic episode.

According to one study, exposure to stressful life events raises the risk of initial psychotic episodes among vulnerable individuals. And many of them go on to have another episode in their lifetime. In fact, up to half of them will experience a second occurrence within 2 years that is severe enough to require a hospital visit. Thus, it’s best to utilize treatment methods that help reduce the negative effects of life stressors.

Lifestyle choices can also play a role. For example, many people are now experiencing psychosis symptoms as a result of drug use and abuse.

Substances like marijuana and alcohol are associated with psychotic episodes, either while using the drug or when attempting to quit the drug after a period of prolonged and/or heavy usage. This is especially dangerous for adolescents and young adults. They may already be at greater risk for psychotic episodes because their puberty-related hormonal changes can be a risk factor, too.

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) lists various additional causes of psychosis. It may occur as a symptom of age-related diseases, including Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and related types of dementia. Short-term disturbances of the body, such as sleep deprivation and certain prescription medications, can also contribute.

You may be surprised to know that common medications—including antibiotics, muscle relaxants, and pain relievers—have been found to induce psychosis in some people.


Psychosis itself is not a mental health condition. It’s a symptom of a serious mental illness, or it may be happening as a side effect of a separate condition.

Mental health disorders related to psychosis include:

Meanwhile, conditions that may intersect with psychosis include:

Because so many potential factors may be contributing to psychosis symptoms and early psychosis, it’s critical to seek help to pinpoint the root cause(s) of the problem.

People who are experiencing symptoms of psychosis may be in denial about their issues and resist getting help. But early treatment creates better chances of recovery.

Functional brain imaging, such as brain SPECT scans, may be helpful in detecting underlying causes of psychosis, such as concussions and traumatic brain injuries or brain abnormalities. The SPECT scan database at Amen Clinics shows that psychosis may involve abnormal activity several brain regions. Meanwhile, lab tests can rule out any related concerns, such as infections or other illnesses.


Sadly, the NMIH reports that it’s common for someone to experience psychotic symptoms for more than a year before receiving treatment. However, the organization’s research project Recovery After an Initial Schizophrenia Episode (RAISE) found that coordinated specialty care can help.

Coordinated care can consist of several strategies, including individual or group psychotherapy, family support and education programs, medication, employment and education services, and teaming with a case manager for access to support.

Thankfully, there is hope for those affected by psychosis and their loved ones. If you are noticing psychosis symptoms, reach out for help sooner rather than later. With early treatment, you’ll encourage the best possible recovery and help lower the risk of future episodes.

Psychosis and other mental health issues can’t wait. At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, clinical evaluations, and therapy for adults, teens, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 844-360-9626 or visit our contact page here.

No Comments »

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Leave a comment

Contact Us