About psychosis - PEPP-MUHC

Learn more about psychosis

What is psychosis

Psychosis is a term that defines a break from reality, or in other words when an individual’s reality and how they experience it, differs from how the majority of others see that reality.

A psychotic episode is estimated to occur to approximately 3.5% of individuals at some point or other in their lifetime. These disorders include schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, delusional disorder, bipolar 1 disorder, major depression with psychotic features, undifferentiated psychosis and substance induced psychosis, with cannabis being the leading substance implicated.

Smoke in the air

Most often these initial episodes will occur at the most vulnerable time in a person’s life, with the peak age of onset being 15-25 for males and 25-35 for females. Because episodes often occur when a young person is in school, choosing a career, starting a job, developing meaningful long-term relationships, and /or forming a union with a significant other; having a psychosis at this time can be devastating. Early and effective treatment can change the course of the illness and prevent deterioration, thus changing the course of the individual’s life trajectory.

Psychosis is a serious but treatable medical condition which causes significant distress and disorientation to the person experiencing it and to their families. But there is hope. Early and effective treatment can change the course of the illness and prevent deterioration.

Types of Psychosis

  • Schizophrenia
  • Bipolar disorders
  • Schizophreniform psychosis
  • Brief psychotic episode
  • Major depression with psychotic features
  • Drug-induced psychosis
Young man sit on on the floor in a corner, head on knees.
Man with mysterious glance


  • Largely still unknown
  • A combination of biological and environmental factors likely create a vulnerability to psychosis
  • Symptoms often emerge in response to stress, drug use, or social changes in vulnerable individuals


  • Delusions
    • Fixed belief that feels real to the person
    • Logical reasoning does not change the belief
  • Hallucinations
    • Seeing, hearing, feeling, smelling, or tasting something that is not there (e.g. voices)
  • Confused thinking
    • Thoughts do not make sense
    • Difficulty concentrating or remembering things
  • Altered emotions
    • Mood swings, depression, excitement, agitation
  • Negative symptoms
    • ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Lack of motivation and drive, social withdrawal


    The first episode psychosis movement started in Melbourne Australia in 1996. It has, through the years, grown to a world-wide movement, with Canada being among the leading nations in terms of service delivery, organization of services, and research.

    The approach centers on the idea that recovery from psychosis is possible. It is widely believed that by providing early, intense and comprehensive treatment at the beginning of the illness, one can in fact change the lifetime trajectory of psychotic disorders. This is because the first 2 to 5 years are thought to represent the critical period of the illness. One key element is to aim to reduce the duration of untreated psychosis (DUP) as longer DUP has been associated with more long-term disability.

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    • Medication
    • Case management
    • Education and couselling
    • Family intervention
    • Group therapy
    • Cognitive behavioural therapy
    • Career and educational assistance
    Young man and woman discussing

    Help and support

    Acknowledging how challenging it is for someone struggling with psychosis is the first step in supporting a loved on. Other ways you can additionally support them include encouraging a routine, promoting good physical health and adequate self-care. Encouraging social support is another way to further assist one dealing with psychosis, but it is important to honour their readiness.

    Building walls with a mural reading "How are you, really?"
    Two hands touching each other

    How to help a loved one suffering from psychosis?

    One way to offer support is through scheduling activities that they enjoy with people they are familiar with. It is important is to provide them with the option to discuss how they are feeling and acknowledge that their experiences are real to them. Be mindful of being patronizing or humorous when talking about their idea of reality.