What is psychosis? 

Psychosis is a disorder which distorts a person’s normal thoughts, senses and feelings. It is characterised by unusual beliefs and perceptions (often hearing voices) and it can be a scary, confusing time for people who experience psychosis.

Psychosis can be a subtle, confusing and shifting experience. It may be lived-with by people in communities, never coming to the attention of health services.  Yet families, neighbours and communities are left with concern.

People who are intoxicated or dependent on substances, have serious physical illnesses or injuries, or later age-related brain changes may be predisposed to the onset of psychosis. These states may linger or pass, never reaching a threshold for contact to emergency or health services. Yet concern for that person’s ‘state of mind’ remains for those around.

When a person is suffering a psychosis, their self-care, safety or relationships may be further upset by any stress, loss or conflict. It is always better to seek help or advice early.

A recurrence of acute psychotic episodes with impaired perception, thinking, emotions and independent living, may become described as schizophrenia.

What causes psychosis?

Psychosis is considered to have a range of origins. Medical research findings have led to modern bio-psycho-social impression of the basis, course and experience of psychosis.

For example, and not limited to –

  • biological factors – neuroscience evidence of genetic vulnerability to stress, resilience and temperament, injury and chronic illness, substance use, environmental toxicities.
  • psychological factors – attachment and upbringing experiences, life stresses, trauma, losses. 
  • social factors –  learning / social / employment needs, personal devaluation and bullying.

A combination of these factors may contribute to the onset and recurrence of psychosis, and associated mental health challenges.

Psychosis can become a persistiant disorder for any person. If day-to-day functioning is overwhelmed by unusual and confusing perceptions, with social isolation, assistance may be warranted.

What are the signs and symptoms of psychosis?

Psychosis is a disturbed state of mind and brain, and can be an overwhelming experience to imagine or endure, even witness. By definition, psychosis is a departure from most peoples’ normal experience, and can be frightening and confusing. –

A person experiencing psychosis may experience

  • Their perceptions of the world around them as changed. Memories and unusual ideas may preoccupy their thoughts, often as audible voices of people or unusual sounds. Various stimuli may be seen visually, smelt or sensed physically on the skin, with intensely real, vivid qualities. These are known as hallucinations.
  • A changed understanding of life and the environment, and unusual, improbable or bizarre beliefs. People may express mystical insights or magical abilities, or feelings of threat and persecution. This disturbance of belief is known as experiencing delusions.
  • Confused thinking and memory, and disturbed attention and concentration.
  • Mistrust of people, misunderstanding and withdrawal from normal relationships.
  • Distress and emotional confusion, anxiety and a loss of the qualities of personality.
  • Physical fatigue, reduced motivation and disturbance of the normal routines of sleep.
  • Poor self care, eating and hygiene.
  • An inability to recognise these changes in their life, or consider them as possibly being unwell.

How Re-centre can assist?

Reliable help can be found in the professional expertise of Re-centre specialists.

A psychiatrist normally engages with people experiencing psychosis by first recognising their unusual experiences are very real. A relationship of trust and partnership is then established, to allow discussion, clarification and consideration of the various options of treatment.

Family and important support people are included to understand and support care options

Care planning

How do I help my loved one who experiences psychosis? 

Do …

Be patient and calm

Focus on the emotion of feeling anxious or scared, rather than the content of their fearful beliefs

Support your loved one to make good choices

Reassure them this difficult experience will pass, in time  

Seek guidance and information from professionals

Support the person to stop using substances if this has contributed to the problem


Do not …

… argue the beliefs or perceptions aren’t real. (.. they are felt as very real).

…overwhelm them with unnecessary distractions, or people or any stimulation when they’re overwhelmed.

… leave alone if you are worried about their impulsiveness, intentions, or vulnerability.

External resources

The New Zealand Mental Health Foundation website has up-to-date information and advice about psychosis, and other psychological problems. You can read more about schizophrenia, a type of psychosis, here.   

Who, at Re-centre, can help me with psychosis?

Discover better mind health with Re-centre