First Episode Psychosis: An Information Guide
There are a number of mental illnesses that can include psychosis as a symptom. In the early phases of a psychotic episode,
it is usually difficult to diagnose the exact type of psychosis that is happening. This is because the factors that determine
a specific diagnosis are often unclear during the psychotic episode. It is important to recognize and understand symptoms,
and to communicate them to the treatment team. Any concerns or questions about diagnosis should be discussed with a mental
The following list provides the names and brief descriptions of different types of psychotic illness.
The term schizophrenia refers to a type of psychosis in which a person experiences some psychotic symptoms for at least six
months, with a significant decline in the person’s ability to function. The symptoms and length of the illness vary from person
This type of psychosis is the same as schizophrenia except that the symptoms have lasted for less than six months. The illness
may completely resolve or may persist and progress to other psychiatric diagnoses, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder
or schizoaffective disorder.
With this type of illness the symptoms of psychosis relate more to mood disturbance than to thought disturbance. A person
will experience mood elevations (mania) and sometimes depression, which may persist or fluctuate in intensity. When psychotic
symptoms arise, they often reflect the person’s mood. For example, people who are depressed may hear voices that put them
down. People who are experiencing an elevated mood may believe they are special and are capable of doing amazing things.
During this type of psychosis, a person will experience symptoms of schizophrenia and symptoms of a mood disturbance, either
at the same time or alternating over time.
Depression with psychotic features
Sometimes a person will experience a severe depression with symptoms of psychosis without the mania associated with bipolar
disorder. This type of depression is referred to as a psychotic depression or depression with psychotic features.
The use of drugs such as marijuana, cocaine, LSD, amphetamines and alcohol can sometimes cause psychotic symptoms to appear.
Once the effects of the drugs or alcohol wear off, the symptoms of psychosis will usually resolve. However, the symptoms themselves
may require medical treatment.
Symptoms of psychosis may appear as a result of a physical illness or a head injury. A thorough medical examination should
be conducted to rule out or confirm this type of psychosis. This examination may involve some tests or investigations such
as a brain scan.
Brief psychotic disorder
Sometimes symptoms of psychosis come on suddenly and, in some cases, are triggered in response to a major stress in the person’s
life, such as a death in the family. This type of psychosis usually lasts less than a month.
This type of psychosis consists of very strong and fixed beliefs in things that are not true. Changes in perception, such
as hallucinations, are not seen in this illness. A delusional disorder does not usually affect a person’s ability to function.
It may be difficult to make a diagnosis in the early stages. Therefore it may not be helpful to focus on a particular diagnosis.
It is also important to remember that everyone’s experience of psychosis is different. Course and outcome will vary from person
In First Episode Psychosis: An Information Guide
- What is psychosis?
- The symptoms of psychosis
- The causes of psychosis
- The different types of psychosis
- Treatments for psychosis
- Family involvement — issues and concerns
- The process of recovery