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What do you think of when you hear the word “psychotic?” Some people are scared of psychosis because of the way it’s shown on TV or in the movies. In real life, though, psychosis is a serious and disabling mental health condition—but it is treatable and many people recover after only one episode when they get proper treatment.

On this page:

What is it?

Psychosis is often described as a “loss of reality” or a “break from reality” because it makes you experience or believe things that aren’t real. It can change the way you think, act, feel or sense things. Psychosis can be very scary and confusing, and it can significantly disrupt your life. In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) ranks psychosis as the third-most disabling medical condition in the world.

Psychosis is a syndrome or group of symptoms. Psychosis itself isn’t a disease or disorder—it’s usually a sign that something else is wrong.

You may experience vague warning signs before the symptoms of psychosis begin. Warning signs can include depression, anxiety, feeling “different” or feeling like your thoughts have sped up or slowed down.

There are two different kinds of psychosis symptoms: positive symptoms and negative symptoms.

Positive symptoms “add” things like thoughts or behaviours.

Negative symptoms take something away. You might not being able to show emotions, talk much (or at all) or be motivated to do anything. Negative symptoms often aren’t as distinct as positive symptoms, and they can look like symptoms of a mood disorder like depression or the side effects of medication.

The symptoms of psychosis generally depend on the cause of psychosis, so different people may have very different symptoms. Someone living with schizophrenia may experience many positive and negative symptoms while someone living with a brain injury may only experience hallucinations or delusions. The most important thing to remember is that all symptoms are treatable.


Who does it affect?

About 3% of the population will experience psychosis at some point. Psychosis usually starts to affect people in their late teens and early twenties. It affects men and women equally, though men usually experience symptoms at a slightly earlier age than women. Risk of psychosis seems to run in families, and people seem to be more vulnerable if a family member has a psychotic disorder like schizophrenia or a personality disorder like paranoid personality disorder.

Could I have psychosis?

While psychosis looks different from person to person, it always causes changes in your abilities and personality. Because it is so different in each person, you may experience some or all of the symptoms below.

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms it’s important that you talk to your doctor. These symptoms could also be signs of other mental or physical health problems, and your doctor can help figure out what is causing them. Often, people living with psychosis also experience symptoms of anxiety and depression.


What can I do about it?

Psychosis is much easier to treat if it’s treated early. People who receive treatment during their first episode of psychosis often recover faster, experience fewer related problems like depression, spend less time in the hospital and have fewer school, work or social problems. With treatment, many people never experience psychosis again after they recover from their first episode.

Treatment for psychosis usually includes medication and counselling. Some people need to stay in the hospital for assessment or treatment.


Where do I go from here?

In addition to talking to your family doctor, check out the resources below for more information about psychosis:

Early Psychosis Intervention (EPI)

EPI programs help people who have recently started to experience psychosis symptoms. The Early Psychosis website can help you find services or programs in BC. They also offer information about psychosis, assessments, managing psychosis, and supporting someone who experiences psychosis. For more, visit

BC Schizophrenia Society

Visit or call 1-888-888-0029 (toll-free in BC) or 604-270-7841 (in Greater Vancouver) for resources and information on schizophrenia and psychosis.

Kelty Mental Health

The BC Children’s Kelty Mental Health Resource Centre provides mental health and substance use information and resources, assistance navigating the mental health system, as well as free personalized support from parent peer support workers for families across BC and Yukon. Contact Kelty Mental Health at or 1-800-665-1822 (toll-free in BC) or 604-875-2084 (in Greater Vancouver).

BC Partners for Mental Health and Addictions Information
Visit for info sheets, and personal stories about psychosis. You’ll find more information, tips and self-tests to help you understand many different mental health problems.

Resources available in many languages:

*For each service below, if English is not your first language, say the name of your preferred language in English to be connected to an interpreter. More than 100 languages are available.

HealthLink BC

Call 811 or visit to access free, non-emergency health information for anyone in your family, including mental health information. Through 811, you can also speak to a registered nurse about symptoms you’re worried about, or a pharmacist about medication questions.

Crisis lines aren’t only for people in crisis. You can call for information on local services or if you just need someone to talk to. If you are in distress, call310-6789(do not add 604, 778 or 250 before the number) 24 hours a day to connect to a BC crisis line, without a wait or busy signal. The crisis lines linked in through 310-6789 have received advanced training in mental health issues and services by members of the BC Partners for Mental Health and Addictions Information.

© 2013

This info sheet was prepared by CMHA BC Division on behalf of the BC Partners for Mental Health and Addictions Information and HeretoHelp. Funding was provided by BC Mental Health and Substance Use Services, an agency of the Provincial Health Services Authority. For more resources visit

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