Psychosis and Early Psychosis

Unlike traditional psychiatry, which rarely looks at the brain, Amen Clinics uses brain imaging technology to help identify underlying brain issues associated with psychosis and early psychosis.

What are Psychosis and Early Psychosis?

Psychosis is characterized by the temporary inability to distinguish what is real from what isn’t real. Losing touch with reality in this way is called a psychotic episode. During a psychotic episode, a person may see or hear things that don’t exist. They may believe things that aren’t true. Early psychosis, also referred to as first-episode psychosis (FEP), is when an individual first begins to experience a break with reality. Seeking help for psychosis, especially for early psychosis, is critical because the earlier treatment begins, the better the outcome.

It is important to understand that psychosis is not a psychiatric condition, rather it is a symptom of serious mental illness or it can be related to another condition. (See below for more information on Types of Psychotic Disorders and Psychosis in Related Conditions.)

Who has Psychosis / Early Psychosis?

There are many misconceptions about psychosis. For example, most people think psychosis is rare, but it occurs more frequently than you might imagine. It is estimated that 3 out of 100 people will have a psychotic episode during their lifetime. And each year, approximately 100,000 American adolescents and young adults experience their first psychotic episode. People also mistakenly believe that people who are psychotic are also dangerous. In reality, they are no more likely to be violent than the general population, however, they may be more inclined to injure themselves.

What are the Symptoms?

During a psychotic episode, a person may have difficulty with everyday functioning. They may feel anxious, depressed, and unmotivated. And they may have trouble sleeping and isolate themselves from friends and family. Learn more by reviewing the “Warning Signs” chart on this page.

What Causes It?

The medical community is still uncovering the exact causes of psychosis, but we have discovered several factors that likely contribute to it. We do know that teenagers and young adults are at increased risk of experiencing an episode of psychosis because of hormonal changes in their brain during puberty.

Contributing factors include:

  • Genetics – Having a close relative increases the risk of psychosis.
  • Trauma – Exposure to a traumatic event can trigger a psychotic episode.
  • Drugs and Alcohol – Addictions to drugs and alcohol are strongly linked to psychosis. In one study, 74% of people with first episode had a substance use disorder at some point during their lifetime. Cannabis, LSD, alcohol, amphetamines, and other substances are associated with increased risk of psychosis in people who have an underlying predisposition.
  • Head Injuries – Traumatic brain injuries increase the risk of psychosis in the months and years following the head injury.
  • Brain Disorders – Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, as well as strokes, brain tumors, and Parkinson’s disease may lead to psychosis.
  • Mental Health Conditions – Psychosis is often seen as a symptom of mental health disorders.
  • Infections – Chronic infections, such as Lyme disease, have been associated with psychotic episodes.
  • Hormonal Changes – The hormonal changes that occur during puberty put adolescents and young adults at greater risk of developing psychosis.
  • Sleep Deprivation – Chronic insomnia can lead to symptoms of psychosis.
  • Medication Use – Certain medications—including some common antibiotics, muscle relaxants, pain relievers, and others—have been found to induce psychosis in some people.

Warning signs of psychosis and early psychosis include:

Hallmarks of Psychosis includes:


  • Hallucinations: Hearing voices (auditory hallucinations), seeing things that aren’t real, have strange sensory experiences
  • Delusions: Unshakable beliefs that aren’t true, such as thinking you are an important person, have special powers, or that outside forces are controlling you
  • Disordered thinking: Disjointed thoughts, illogical thinking, random utterances, or incoherence
  • Disorganization: Unpredictable, agitated behaviors
  • Trouble concentrating: Inability to maintain focus
  • Catatonia: Decreased responsiveness


Early Psychosis Warning Signs:


  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Being suspicious of others
  • Spending an unusual amount of time alone
  • Poor school grades or work performance
  • Neglecting self-care (e.g. not showering)
  • Changes in emotional responses
  • Trouble sleeping

Why Choose Amen Clinics for Treating Psychosis and Early Psychosis?

Because there are so many possible contributing factors of psychosis, it is very important to find the root cause (or multiple causes) of your symptoms. At Amen Clinics, we perform brain imaging to identify head injuries or other brain abnormalities, as well as using extensive lab tests to detect any infections or other conditions that may contribute to symptoms of psychosis and early psychosis.

Note: If you have a loved one or child who is experiencing psychosis or early psychosis, encouraging them to get help is critical. Early treatment offers the greatest hope of recovery. Be aware, however, that the delusions, disordered thinking, and other aspects of psychosis may make an individual hesitant to seek help. In this case, be calm, kind, supportive, and encouraging when suggesting they seek help.

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Psychosis and Early Psychosis Brains Work Differently

Psychosis and psychotic disorders are complex and involve several brain areas. Research in a 2018 issue of JAMA Psychiatry found that people with an initial psychotic episode and later psychosis showed abnormal connections in the brain. Specifically, reduced integration and increased segregation of brain regions disrupts the way the neurons communicate with each other.

Ready to learn more? Speak to a care coordinator today!

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Types of Psychotic Disorders

Mental health conditions in which psychosis is a primary symptom are known as psychotic disorders. There are many types of psychotic disorders, including:

Type 1: Schizophrenia

Schizophrenia affects a person’s ability to distinguish reality from fantasy.

Type 2: Schizoaffective Disorder

A condition involving symptoms of both schizophrenia and affective disorders (also called mood disorders).

Type 3: Schizotypal Disorder

Characterized by strange, superstitious, or unusual beliefs and behaviors.

Type 4: Delusional Disorder (formerly called paranoid disorder)

Delusions are the main symptom of this condition.

Type 5: Brief Psychotic Disorder

A sudden, temporary psychotic episode, sometimes triggered by a stressful event.


“With A Better Brain Comes A Better Life”

– Daniel G. Amen, M.D.


Psychosis in Related Conditions

Psychosis may also be present in other mental health conditions, including:

  • Bipolar Disorder: A condition characterized by intense and unstable emotions.
  • Psychotic Depression: A type of major depressive disorder in which psychosis is present.
  • Postpartum Psychosis: The most severe form of postpartum mental illness.
  • Substance Use Disorders / Dual Diagnosis: Psychosis can be induced by substance use or may be present in addition to addiction and another mental health disorder.
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