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The symptoms of psychosis

If your friend or family member is experiencing any of these signs and symptoms, talk to your family doctor about your concerns or call us now.

Hearing things that no one else can hear

One of the clearest signs of psychosis is when people have hallucinations. When they hear things that others do not hear, they are experiencing auditory hallucinations. They may hear voices telling them to do things, murmuring, commenting on what they are doing and/or saying bad things about them. These voices can be disturbing and confusing. When they are hearing voices, they will often seem to be distracted and won’t be focussing on what you’re saying to them. They may turn their heads or look around as if responding to a voice.

Seeing things that aren’t there

People with psychosis might see things that aren’t visible to others. These are called visual hallucinations. They might believe that they see shadows, people coming out of the floor or even insects or snakes. You may notice, in this case, that they are choosing to stay in the dark or to keep the lights on all the time.

Having false or strange beliefs

Another clear symptom of psychosis is the development of false and strange beliefs called delusions. Delusions are false beliefs that seem very real to the person experiencing them, but are impossible for others to believe.

There are several types of delusions:

  • Some people believe that there’s something wrong with their body that tests and examinations do not confirm. These are called somatic delusions.
  • Others may believe that the radio or TV is speaking about them. These are called delusions of reference.
  • People with psychosis can also develop grandiose delusions (for example, believing that they have a special mission from God, that they are superheroes, or that they are rock stars).

Believing that someone is out to get him or her

One of the most frightening types of delusions are paranoid delusions. When people are experiencing paranoid delusions they are afraid of things that are not easily understood by others. Some examples include believing that people are trying to harm them, that they are being followed, that they are a victim of a conspiracy or that they are under surveillance. They may also believe that their phones or computers are being tampered with or that cameras have been installed to watch them. Sometimes people with psychosis even believe that their families are trying to poison them.

Signs of paranoia may include:

  • Being suspicious
  • Locking doors
  • Being secretive
  • Not wanting to leave the house or go out at night
  • Unplugging computers
  • Trying to disguise themselves or hide under caps or hoods or behind sunglasses
  • Talking about leaving for other places or speaking about people who are behaving strangely towards them
  • Carrying (or sleeping with) knives or baseball bats to protect themselves

Experiencing changes in thinking or speech

More subtle signs, such as changes in thinking, may also happen, but these are harder to identify as possible symptoms of psychosis. You may begin to see that the person is having trouble communicating; for example, speech may be rambling and difficult to follow. The person might also have trouble concentrating or remembering things or difficulties organizing, planning and completing tasks.

Experiencing changes in behaviour

Before the symptoms described above set in, there will have usually been some changes in the person’s behaviour. These changes are very hard to attribute to psychosis. They can sometimes develop so slowly that families and friends can miss them. Or they may notice the changes but think that they’re caused by other things, like changing schools, making new friends, events in the family, stress, drug use or the normal changes of adolescence.

These changes in behaviour may include:

  • Being less sociable and spending more time alone
  • Changing sleeping patterns, such as preferring to stay up at night and sleep in the day
  • Gradually doing less well in school, being less motivated and being less involved in activities they used to enjoy
  • Becoming more moody, or seeming anxious or mildly suspicious
  • Smoking marijuana