Psychosis: Sarah's story

Sarah, 19, describes her experience of psychosis. Find out how early help from local services can help young people who live with mental illness.

Psychosis versus psychopath

The term "psychosis" should not be confused with the term "psychopath". The two conditions are very different.

Someone with psychosis has an acute (short-term) condition that, if treated, can often lead to a full recovery.

A psychopath is someone who has an incurable anti-social personality disorder, which means that they:

  • lack the capacity for empathy (understanding how someone else feels)
  • are manipulative
  • often have a total disregard for the consequences of their actions

Unlike people with psychosis, people with an anti-social personality disorder can appear to act in a rational manner, which makes their condition hard to detect.

Psychosis is a condition that affects a person’s mind and causes changes to the way that they think, feel and behave. A person who experiences psychosis may be unable to distinguish between reality and their imagination.

People who are experiencing psychosis are sometimes referred to as psychotic. They may have:

  • hallucinations – where you see or hear things that are not there
  • delusions – where you believe things that are untrue

Psychosis is not a condition in itself, it is a symptom of other conditions. The most common cause of psychosis is a mental health condition, such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder (manic depression).

Psychosis can also be triggered by physical conditions, such as Parkinson's disease, or as a result of drug or alcohol misuse.

The length of time that someone will experience a psychotic state of mind, known as a psychotic episode, will depend on the underlying causes. Drug- or alcohol-induced psychosis many only last for a few days. However, psychosis that results from schizophrenia or bipolar disorder may last indefinitely unless it is treated.

How common is psychosis?

Psychosis is more common than most people realise. It is estimated that one in every 200 people in the UK has experienced psychosis. Some people will only experience one psychotic episode, while others may experience several throughout their life.

Schizophrenia, which is one of the main causes of psychosis, will affect one person in every 100 in the population during their lifetime. 


Prompt treatment is recommended for someone who is experiencing psychosis. Studies suggest that the earlier psychosis is treated, the better the long-term results tend to be.

In the short-term, medicines are used to treat the symptoms of psychosis to make sure that the person is no longer a danger to themselves or to others. The long-term treatment will depend on the underlying causes.

If you have psychosis, it could affect your ability to drive. It is your legal obligation to inform the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) about a medical condition that could have an impact on your driving ability. Go to the Directgov website to find out how to tell the DVLA about a medical condition.

  • show glossary terms

Mental refers to the processes in the mind.

Schizophrenia is a chronic (long-term) mental health condition that causes a range of different psychological symptoms, including psychotic episodes.

Bipolar disorder
Bipolar disorder, previously known as manic depression, is a condition that affects your moods, which can swing from one extreme to another.

Parkinson’s disease
A chronic (long-term) neurological condition that affects the way the brain co-ordinates body movements, including walking, talking and writing.

Last reviewed: 19/05/2010

Next review due: 19/05/2012


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MissA said on 12 February 2011

I'm going through something similar, it is very perplexing.
I'm glad it worked out for Sarah. Hope she is still doing well.

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cvsouth said on 13 May 2009

To anyone who watched the video..

Take it from me, both those guys talked a LOT of sense there. Listen to what they are saying.

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