What is psychosis?


Back-to-Directory A health article about psychosis from Mental Health Problemsdealing with Health Problems & nutritional Self Care Strategies

This is a term used to describe a range of conditions that affect the mind. These conditions lead to a loss of touch with reality and /or distorted perceptions of reality.

When someone becomes ill in this way and loses contact with reality, it is called a psychotic episode.

This is most likely to occur in young adults. It is quite common - 3 out of every 100 young people will experience a psychotic episode, making psychosis more common than diabetes in young people.


Confused thinking: Everyday thoughts become confused or don’t join up properly. You may have difficulty concentrating, following a conversation or remembering things.

False beliefs (delusions): You become so convinced of your delusion, that the most logical argument cannot make you change your mind. Delusions include: Delusions of Grandeur- believing you are psychic, someone famous like a politician or Jesus Christ.

Delusions of Paranoia; believing you are being persecuted, followed, being plotted against, that people – family or friends are in a conspiracy against you. Being suspicious of a partner’s fidelity, “psychotic jealousy” is also a kind of delusion.

Hallucinations: You might see, hear, feel, smell or taste something that is not actually there. You may hear voices “in your head” or see things that don’t really exist i.e. snakes crawling up the wall.

Voices may mock you, be abusive or may even be amusing. Hallucinations often seem very real. Hallucinations can cause agitation, hostility, great distress and make communication very difficult.

Changed feelings: If you are experiencing a psychotic episode you may feel strange and cut off from the world with everything moving in slow motion. Your emotions may seem dampened. You may feel less emotion than before, or show less emotion to those around you and/or you may withdraw socially.

Anxiety/Agitation: Very often your emotions are in turmoil. Things seem in some way not right or normal. This can be a time of great fear and stress when your usual methods to calm yourself don’t seem to work. This leads to much anxiety and fear about what is happening to you.

Changed behaviour: If you are experiencing psychosis you may behave differently from the way you usually do. You may be extremely active or lethargic. Often, changes in behaviour are associated with the other symptoms of psychosis.


Everyone’s experience of psychosis is different. When someone has psychosis, a diagnosis of a particular psychotic illness is usually given, these include:

Schizophrenia – Schizophrenia refers to a group of mental illnesses that affect a person’s ability to think, feel and act. Symptoms you may experience include hallucinations, thought disorder, delusions, withdrawal, loss of emotion and energy and inappropriate emotions.

To be diagnosed with schizophrenia, symptoms must have been continuing for a period of at least six months.

Bipolar Disorder – Bipolar disorder (manic depression) is a disorder which affects the way a person feels. You may experience very extreme moods - very high and/or very low. You may have delusions or hallucinations which are consistent with the high or low mood.

Some people have a series of manic episodes, others a series of depressive episodes, while others have every possible combination.

Schizoaffective disorder – There are two subtypes of this disorder(bipolar and depressive) In schizoaffective disorder peole have symptoms of either schizophrenia and bipolar or schizophrenia and depression.

People with schizoaffective disorder are generally treated with a combination of medications, depending on the symptoms.

Schizophreniform disorder – Schizophreniform disorder is diagnosed if your psychotic symptoms last more than one month but less than six months. Symptoms are similar to those of schizophrenia.

Drug induced psychosis – Drug induced psychosis is brought on solely by the use of drugs in someone who is predisposed to a psychotic episode. With a drug induced psychosis the symptoms appear quickly and last a relatively short time, hours to days, until the effects of the drug wear off.

Disorientation, memory problems and visual hallucinations are the most common symptoms.

Delusional disorder – If you have delusional disorder you may hold strong beliefs in things which are not true. You may have delusions of being persecuted, that people are out to get you; or that you are someone famous.

Major depression – Someone who has major depression has a type of depression which is so intense it causes loss of interest and enjoyment, loss of appetite, severe insomnia and even psychotic symptoms- such as delusions.

Post-partum psychosis – Post-partum psychosis can be brought on by hormonal changes after childbirth, and often resembles schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. Post-partum psychosis happens to about 1 in 500 pregnant women.

Other illnesses – Other physical illnesses altogether can affect the brain- causing psychotic symptoms. Some of these illnesses include AIDS, thyroid disorder, brain tumour, Huntington’s disease and viral infection.


A psychotic episode is triggered by a disturbance in the way the brain functions. Researchers are only starting to understand how someone develops psychosis and there is still much research to be done.

Symptoms of psychosis often emerge in response to stress, drug abuse or social changes in individuals with a psychotic illness.

Biological - There is some evidence that psychosis is caused by a combination of biological factors which create a vulnerability to experiencing psychotic symptoms during adolescence or early adult life.

A psychosis may be due to impairment of the nervous system in its early development, or possibly a chemical imbalance in part of the brain.

Genetic - For some psychotic disorders there is no family link at all. For others, such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, evidence suggests that genetic factors may play a part.

Stress - The stresses of life seem to play a part in bringing on psychotic episodes in people with a tendency towards developing a psychotic illness. These stresses are often greater in early adult life - just when the illness commonly starts.


The first phase of treatment involves assessment: this means having a series of interviews with mental health specialists.

Blood tests and x-rays will probably be organised to exclude a physical cause for the symptoms. Information obtained from you and your family and friends, together with the test results, will provide some idea about the type of psychosis being experienced, the cause, and how you can best be helped.

Medication - Along with other forms of treatment medication can play a fundamental role in recovery from a psychotic episode and in prevention of further episodes. Different types of medication are effective in reducing the symptoms of psychosis and the anxiety and distress these symptoms can cause.

Counselling and psychological therapy - Having someone to talk to is an important part of treatment. As the recovery phase progresses, you may learn practical ways to prevent further episodes. These could include stress management techniques or ways of recognising warning signs.

Counselling for your family and friends can also be very important. Support groups may provide some of the necessary support for recovery.

Hospital - Sometimes there are benefits in spending a period of time in hospital before continuing with home treatment. Hospitalisation allows symptoms to be observed more fully.

Social support – Support from family and friends is crucial as it reduces isolation. Support makes you better able to deal with the symptoms. Community support and the reduction of stigma and myths surrounding psychosis is also greatly needed.

Other forms of support which can be crucial to your recovery include supported accommodation programs, such as Disability Housing through the Department of Housing; support in gaining employment and in receiving income when you are ill ie. ‘sickness allowance’ or ‘Disability Support Pension’; and training through TAFE or universities.


The pattern of recovery from psychosis varies from person to person and can depend on what your diagnosed mental illness is. Some people recover quickly with very little intervention. Others may benefit from support over a longer period.

With a psychotic illness such as schizophrenia, one in four will have one or two episodes and then experience no further episodes. For some people with bipolar disorder, months or years can pass between psychotic episodes.

Diet change strategies:

When You Crave A Good Feeling

Some moods trigger food cravings -- and vice versa. The challenge is to keep both in check.

Think of your body as an insanely complex, gooey car. Put in gas and oil (a balanced diet), and you're good to go. Put in nicotine, alcohol, caffeine, weird, manufactured fats, gummy, washed-out flour, and sugar, and it's like pouring sugar into the gas tank. You'll sputter, run on, stop and start, or stall.

Put Food In, See a Difference

Senior New York University clinical nutritionist Samantha Heller, MS, RD, would probably prefer an analogy to a chemistry set. "If you are chemically balanced," Heller contends, "your moods will be balanced."

A lot of factors can throw the body out of balance. "A lot of women are anemic," she says. "This leads to depression and fatigue. Older people are often deficient in the B vitamins. People who don't eat regularly often have big shifts in blood sugar." People also have chemical sensitivities to certain foods that can govern mood.

In a study of 200 people done in England for the mental health group known as Mind, subjects were told to cut down on mood "stressors" they consumed, while increasing the amount of mood "supporters." Stressors included sugar, caffeine, alcohol, and chocolate (more of that coming up). Supporters were water, vegetables, fruit, and oil-rich fish.

Eighty-eight percent of the people who tried this reported improved mental health. Specifically, 26% said they had fewer mood swings, 26% had fewer panic attacks and anxiety, and 24% said they experienced less depression.

How Moods Are Fed or Starved

One big set of chemicals that control mood are the neurotransmitters in the brain led by the pleasure "drug" serotonin. These substances determine whether you feel good and energetic or tired, irritable, and spacey. They run on sugar, preferably the form that comes from low glycemic carbohydrates (not doughnut sprinkles), according to Molly Kimball, RD, sports and lifestyle nutritionist at the Ochsner Clinic Foundation and Hospital in New Orleans.

The idea, she says, is to maintain a stable blood sugar level through the day, slowly feeding these substances into the brain. Low glycemic carbs include whole grain bread, beans, whole grain crackers, soy, apples, pears, peaches, and other fruits.

What Kimball calls "crappy carbs" -- commercial granola bars, animal crackers, graham crackers, potato chips, and of course, cakes and pies -- flood into the system too fast and cause your body to order up a big shot of insulin, which then tips the balance you've tried to maintain. "You can see it when you've had a white flour pancake and syrup for breakfast," Kimball says. "By mid-afternoon, you're ready for a nap." This sugar alert/insulin cycle can gradually become less efficient and lead to diabetes and other problems.

Comfort Foods Really Work

If you have let your neurotransmitters get off balance or if external forces have conspired to put you in a bad mood, don't fret, it happens. That's when your body will start to think "comfort food."

According to Joy Short, MS, RD, assistant professor and head of undergraduate nutrition and dietetics at St. Louis University, you should fulfill that craving -- but in moderation. "You might take time to think, 'Am I really hungry or just feel like eating because I am stressed,'" she says.

However, if you can't think of a healthier response, eat your comfort item and enjoy it! If you must eat a deep-fried Twinkie, eat one and lighten up on (but don't skip) the rest of the meals in the day, she says.

You could make comfort foods more nutritional, she says. Interestingly, both men and women choose ice cream as their preferred comfort food, but coming in second is chocolate for women and pizza for men. "If you want a cookie, make it oatmeal raisin or vanilla wafers. Buy low-fat ice cream. Make your hot chocolate with skim milk. And forget the chips, in favor of popcorn or pretzels," Short says. Or after Domino's arrives, throw some artichoke pieces, anchovies, or frozen veggies on top and heat.

What about that universal comfort food, chocolate? Much has been written about chocolate's rich complement of mood-altering chemicals, some of which trip the serotonin receptors and cause a "falling in love" feeling, according to millions of chocoholics.

Chocolate is also supposedly loaded with antioxidants that keep the brain and other organs from being bashed by rogue cells called free radicals. Kimball says chocolate can act almost as a cannabinoid -- the mood-altering chemical found in marijuana. But Heller and Short say the touchy-feely chemicals are not in sufficient strength to make a difference in the body.

Recommendations for Managing Moods

• Maintain a stable blood sugar, no big swings. This means frequent small meals and snacks, every four hours or so.
• Be sure to drink a lot of water and juice.
• Exercise 20 minutes a day for mood -- and an hour for fat-burning.
• Do not follow an extremely low-fat diet (quick weight loss is also bad for mood, Heller says). Fat is needed for anti-depression. Stick with polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats and fatty fish or flaxseeds, which are full of healthy omega-3 fats.
• Take in tryptophan, an amino acid that makes blood sugar accessible to the neurotransmitters. This means milk or turkey. Eat a carb alongside your tryptophan source for better absorption.
• Have breakfast.
• Spend time in the produce department when you shop (try to eat a lot of bright colors, which means fruits and veggies).
• Pass on food items that come wrapped in crackly cellophane.
• Limit coffee (even nutritionist Kimball drinks some).
• Don't eliminate any one food group, such as carbs.


Herbs and related supplements are one natural treatment alternative for mental health disorder patients. Some patients prefer to use natural treatment choices as stand alone treatment, whereas others use them in combination with medication and psychotherapy. Work with your health care practitioner to find out what is best for you.

The best place to get quality supplements is from a natural healthcare provider. There are dozens of supplements marketed on supermarket shelves today, but many of these do not receive standardization. It is important if you decide to use supplements that you get the best quality supplement possible.

Here is a listing of a few supplements that healthcare providers have used for many years to treat symptoms of bipolar and related disorders. Most herbs come from plants and can help relax or provide support with sleep disorders and depression in patients.

Black Cohosh – This may affect one’s hormones, which may be one cause for symptoms of some mental health disorders.

Damiana – Often used to help lessen depression, but may cause mania in people with bipolar disorder.

Ginseng – May help provide more energy to people who feel fatigue during depressive states.

Gotu Kola – May help address symptoms of anxiety.

St. John’s Wort – One of the most popular of herbal supplements supported with scientific research that may help lessen mild depression. Again, one should use with caution and can interact with other medications including antidepressants.

Vitamin & Nutrient Associations

If you suffer from mental health disorders, it is important you eat well to nourish your body. Deficiencies of vitamins and minerals can contribute to your symptoms. Deficiencies of vitamins and minerals in anyone can contribute to symptoms including anxiety, depression and poor health.

A good quality multivitamin is a good start, especially if you do not have a history of eating well. Even if you do eat well, not all people absorb the vitamins and nutrients from their foods completely, so a multivitamin may help correct any shortages.

Many therapists recommend patients with bipolar disorder take extra B vitamins because these vitamins may affect our moods. A deficiency in vitamin B of any type may result in symptoms of depression or anxiety.

B vitamins are also often recommended to people to help lessen fatigue. For most, B vitamins help energize the body. There are many forms of B vitamins, so your best bet is a complex tablet containing all the B vitamins. For your information, here is a breakdown of the B vitamins by category.

• B-1 – Also known as “Thiamin.” This may impact anxiety, irritability and improve blood circulation in the brain and body.

• B-6 – Also known as “Pyridoxine.” This B vitamin may help reduce irritability. Doctors sometimes recommend it to patients with premenstrual irritability and agitation. You can take too much however, so be sure you consult with your doctor.

• B-12 – This vitamin helps convert what you eat into fuel for your body. It is most helpful for reducing drowsiness.

• Folic Acid – Important for preserving the body’s systems and biochemical balance. Careful however, as this supplement may interact with some of the more commonly prescribed mood stabilizers including Depakene.

Other vitamins that may prove helpful may include vitamin E, which may combat the risk of seizures often associated with the use of traditional medication therapies.

Here are some other supplements and nutrients that may prove useful for combating the symptoms of mental health disorders.

SAMe (pronounced Sammy) – This supplement may affect levels of dopamine and serotonin in the brain, but carries with it a risk of mania.

Tyrosine – Often used in combination with B vitamins, this amino acid is a precursor to dopamine and norepinephrine, important neurotransmitters in the body. What this means is your body needs tyrosine to make norepinephrine and dopamine.

GABA – May help relieve some symptoms including anxiety, insomnia, racing thoughts and tension in patients with bipolar or related disorders.

Essential Fatty Acids – Essential fatty acids are important for our entire body to work properly. They nourish the brain and may help reduce symptoms of depression. You can get essential fatty acids by eating more fatty fishes and flax seed or by taking an Omega 3 supplement. Some healthcare providers recommend as much as 5,000 I.U. or more for patients with severe depression. Be sure you check in with your doctor. Most over-the-counter supplements contain only 1,000 I.U. per serving.

Lecithin – This substance may help stabilize mood swings. If you plan to use this supplement, you should do so while working with a natural health care provider.

Calcium – Calcium is a mineral our bodies need for proper neurotransmitter production. Look for a supplement with calcium and magnesium to heighten the effects. A lack in magnesium can often lead to insomnia and anxiety.

Zinc – This important and often ignored mineral is often lacking in many people’s diet. It can help combat colds and may help reduce some symptoms of depression or other mental disorders.

Remember, as with herbal supplementation you should embark on vitamin and nutritional therapy under a skilled practitioner’s guidance.

Even when we try to eat well, we're disadvantaged. The nutritional content of most food has been compromised over the years, not only by deficient soils and modern production, transportation, storage and processing methods, but also by the enormous amounts of chemical and artificial substances added to promote growth, storage life, taste and appearance.

It's for this reason that more and more medical authorities are advocating the use of vitamin and mineral supplements. However, finding them in the right combination can be both confusing and costly.

The nutrition products I am going to recommend you make use of knowledge gained from the botanical world's 6,000 year history. They incorporated health building nutritional herbs with the best modern technology to help our bodies cleanse and detoxify so that the cells - the tiniest living units - can be as fully nourished as possible.

This allows the cells to grow, repair and to perform their functions with the best possible efficiency so that we feel and look better and are more able to prevent and fight disease. Once the body begins to clear itself of toxins it can more efficiently absorb nutrition.

Aloe Vera Juice is a refreshing and anti-bacterial drink, you might find that taking this daily, diluted in some filtered water will not only refresh you like ‘a shower inside you’ but also assists in dealing with any digestive issues you may also be experiencing.

You may find benefit from our information on detoxification as well as a bit about detoxing because of change of diet

It may be due to difficulties with your digestive system that is causing your body to be starved of key nutrients, vitamins or minerals. In this case you may find useful answers by reviewing our article on Nutrition For Your Cells. There is also more information here about why is nutrition such an issue nowadays?

It may be that your metabolism has slowed due to pressures that have been placed on your system through life in general or through specific “challenges” you have faced in the last few months or last few years. Review this by looking at our article about balancing your Metabolic Rate.

Further reading through our articles on health issues will give you a body of information that will help you decide what options you have to deal with the underlying causes of your problem through giving your body the nutrition products that will assist you body to heal from the inside out.

Most mental health disorders are complex and often misunderstood, that affects millions of people every year. It is important that patients understand their disorder is one that they can live with, and even learn to enjoy life with.

There are many misconceptions surrounding mental health disorders. There are times when a patient’s symptoms may become very serious. In cases like this it is critical a person seek professional care and guidance. A mental health disorder can manifest in many different ways. It can for example, manifest as a mild disorder with mild mood swings, or a major mood disorder with swings that are very extreme.

There are many approaches to treating a mental disorder. A patient should always work with a competent doctor or other healthcare provider they can rely and trust on in times of need. Also important to one’s health is his or her ability to build a supportive wellness team.

Your wellness team can help you during the tough times, offering support and helping you make critical decisions when you may not be up to it. The most important step a patient can take, the one that will ultimately lead to their success and fulfillment, is to take a proactive role in their recovery and in their care. To do this, you must first embrace and accept the fact that you have a mental health disorder.

Once you do this, life gets a lot easier. You can then help manage your disorder by working actively with each member of your wellness team as well as with members of your family and your healthcare team to create an action plan that allows you to live a happy, healthy life. Many people live with mental health disorders. Your job is to learn to not only live with, but also learn to enjoy life with bipolar disorder or any serious ailment.

Congratulations on taking a step in the right direction, one that will lead to your long-term recovery and happiness.

We wish you well in your search for solutions to this problem and your movement towards better health in all areas.

Mental Health Problems
Various factors either contribute to or challenge our ability to look after our "whole person". These factors include our degree of self-discipline, how aware we are of our feelings and thoughts, how well we know ourselves.

Factors outside ourselves include the nature of our home and work environment, our financial situation, the current state of our relationships with important people in our lives - friends, partners, families and work colleagues.

The quality of our mental health varies depending on our experience and circumstances. Periods of emotional or financial stress can take their toll on mental health. Working your way, mindfully, through life's difficulties can help us to grow in our emotional life and self-esteem, so that we are even better prepared for future challenges.

If the tension gets too much for us to cope with, however, it can cause us to "break down" emotionally or mentally, that is, not be able to carry on our lives in health. At these times, we may need to ask for help or support while we adjust. Many people live with disability, including physical illness or mental illness, and cope in a healthy way. The challenge for all of us is to search out new ways to cope.


The information provided is to be used for educational purposes only. It should not be used as a substitute for seeking professional care in the diagnosis and treatment of mental health disorders. Information may be reproduced with an acknowledgement to the Mental Health Association NSW. This, and other fact sheets are available for download from www.mentalhealth.asn.au. This fact sheet was last updated in Spring, 2001.

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