Psychosis can happen to anyone. Like any other illness, it can be treated.

The word psychosis is used to describe medical conditions that affect the brain, so that there is a loss of contact with reality. When someone becomes ill in this way, it is called a psychotic episode.

Psychosis: Basic Facts

See our What is Psychosis? fact sheet.

Some facts:

  • Psychosis often strikes young people in their prime
  • Psychosis distorts the senses, making it very difficult for the ill person to tell what is real from what is not real
  • Usual age of occurrence of first episode psychosis is 16-25
  • Men and women are affected with equal frequency
  • Age of onset is usually younger for men than for women
  • Medical assessment and treatment are necessary
  • Early assessment, treatment, and education greatly improve outcomes for the individual and their family.

Psychosis and Schizophrenia

See this discussion of psychosis in the context of schizophrenia on the BC Psychosis website.

Psychosis and Mood

Download our resource booklet on Mood and Psychosis: Information for people with a mood disorder.

Additional information is available at the Mood Disorders Society of Canada.

Postpartum Psychosis

You can view information on postpartum psychosis at the very helpful Reproductive Mental Health Program Website, maintained by BC Mental Health and Substance Use Services.

Psychosis Early Warning Signs

Many behaviours are within the range of normal responses to situations. Yet family members sense—even when symptoms are mild—that behaviour is “unusual”, that the person is “not the same”. This list of warning signs was developed by people whose relatives have schizophrenia or other serious mental illness.

List of Early Warning Signs

The number and severity of these symptoms differ from person to person—although almost everyone mentions noticeable social withdrawal:

  • Deterioration of personal hygiene
  • Depression
  • Bizarre behaviour
  • Irrational statements
  • Sleeping excessively or inability to sleep
  • Social withdrawal, isolation, and reclusiveness
  • Shift in basic personality
  • Unexpected hostility
  • Deterioration of social relationships
  • Hyperactivity or inactivity—or alternating between the two
  • Inability to concentrate or to cope with minor problems
  • Extreme preoccupation with religion or with the occult
  • Excessive writing without meaning
  • Indifference
  • Dropping out of activities—or out of life in general
  • Decline in academic or athletic interests
  • Forgetting things
  • Losing possessions
  • Extreme reactions to criticism
  • Inability to express joy
  • Inability to cry, or excessive crying
  • Inappropriate laughter
  • Unusual sensitivity to stimuli (noise, light, colours, textures)
  • Attempts to escape through frequent moves or hitchhiking trips
  • Drug or alcohol abuse
  • Fainting
  • Strange posturing
  • Refusal to touch persons or objects; wearing gloves, etc.
  • Shaving head or body hair
  • Cutting oneself; threats of self-mutilation
  • Staring without blinking—or blinking incessantly
  • Flat, reptile-like gaze
  • Rigid stubbornness
  • Peculiar use of words or odd language structures
  • Sensitivity and irritability when touched by others.


Anosognosia, as explained by the Treatment Advocacy Center in the US, “also called ‘lack of insight,’ is a symptom of severe mental illness experienced by some that impairs a person’s ability to understand and perceive his or her illness.”

Their 2016 background paper on anosognosia states that “It is not the same as denial of illness. Anosognosia is caused by physical damage to the brain, and is thus anatomical in origin; denial is psychological in origin.

Approximately 50% of individuals with schizophrenia and 40% of individuals with bipolar disorder are estimated to have co-occurring anosognosia. It is reported to be the most common reason why individuals with schizophrenia refuse to take medication; since they do not believe that there is anything wrong with them, why should they? Awareness of illness sometimes improves with treatment with antipsychotic medication, especially clozapine.”

Early Psychosis Intervention

Why Is Early Intervention So Important?

A first episode of psychosis can be a confusing and traumatic experience for a young person. It also affects their family and peers. Since the onset of psychosis associated with schizophrenia most often occurs in the late teens or early twenties, it can adversely affect the person’s developing a sense of self-identity as well as their relationships, education
and career goals.

“Toxic” Psychosis

Preliminary evidence shows delayed treatment may cause the illness to become more biologically entrenched and less responsive to treatment. Early diagnosis and treatment can lead to significantly improved recovery and outcome.
By contrast, the longer the illness goes untreated, the longer it takes for remission of symptoms, the lesser the degree of
remission, and the greater the chance of early relapse.

There can be critical damage to a young person’s life when psychosis is ignored. It is important to recognize early warning signs and get proper medical help as soon as possible.

Next Steps: Getting Help

See our How Do I Get Help for my Loved One? page, for more information and contacts for getting your loved one assessed and provided with medical help.

You may also find the following resources helpful:

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