What is Psychosis?

Psychosis is a serious brain illness. When you have psychosis, what you think is real is not the same as what other people think is real.

Some doctors think certain people are born with the possibility of getting psychosis. Some people are born with the same genetic risk but never get psychosis. The ones that do get psychosis have often experienced a “trigger” like a sad life event, injury, illness or street drug use.

Psychosis can occur in a variety of mental and physical illnesses – for example, it can occur in mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder, depression, or schizophrenia; it may be drug-induced; or it can result from a brain injury. It is very important to get help as early as possible, as research indicates that the earlier intervention happens, the better the treatment outcome may be. 

How do I know if it is Psychosis?

You may notice your child is acting oddly. They may be moody or get angry often. Their grades at school may go way down and they also may start spending more and more time alone. Family and friends may think they are just “going through a phase” or wonder if they’re using street drugs. If you think something is wrong, it’s always a good idea to have your child checked out by a doctor, just in case.

Signs and Symptoms

Later on, a young person with psychosis might begin to:

  • hear or see things that are not there
  • have strange beliefs they cannot be talked out of
  • become very suspicious or paranoid
  • act very differently than they did before
  • stop reacting to other people
  • speak in a way that does not make sense
  • seem to not be feeling anything
  • seem to have lost motivation to do things
  • seem to have lost interest in things that they used to enjoy
  • seem confused

These are signs the brain is having problems. It’s important to see a doctor right away. Psychosis can harm the brain, so it needs to be caught as soon as possible.

How common is it?

  • about 3% of people have psychosis at some time in their life
  • most people have their first episode between the ages of 15 and 25
  • men and women have the same chance of getting psychosis
  • the risk is great if other family members have had psychosis


What can be done?

People with psychosis have a good chance of getting well if they get medical help early. Someone who might have psychosis should be checked out by a doctor or psychiatrist. Many areas in BC have Early Psychosis Intervention (EPI) programs that are an excellent resource for treatment and recovery. 

Treatment and strategies

  • medication is very important. It often takes a while to find one that is right, as everyone’s brain is different. To learn more about medications used to treat psychosis, click here.
  • learn about psychosis
  • learn ways to deal with stress, and keep stress low to help prevent the return of the illness
  • cognitive-behavioural therapy might be indicated to help with reality testing
  • support - having a brain illness can be hard and lonely. It helps to have caring people to talk to about it.

Tips for parents

Psychosis almost always needs medical treatment, but there are things parents can do. Help your child to:

  • Take part in light exercise or other activities they used to enjoy. It’s best to start with only one or two other people around.
  • Stay away from street drugs, so that the brain can heal and stay well.
  • Keep stress low and do things that help lower stress. Take a few minutes together to breathe slowly and deeply. Physical activity and healthy eating can help.  
  • Getting enough sleep. If your child is having trouble sleeping or sleeping too much, talk to the doctor.
  • Get well slowly and steadily. Your child may want to spend quiet time alone and may not talk or join in much. They might have trouble focusing or getting things done. While the brain is healing, it takes a while to be able to think clearly again and start to feel normal. Try to speak in short, simple sentences that are easier to understand. Be gentle and positive.
  • Eat healthy snacks. Keep food like cut up fruit and vegetables around.

Where to from here? 

  • Contact an Early Psychosis Intervention (EPI) program in your region. Note you do not need a referral and can contact the program directly.
  • If there is no early psychosis intervention program in your area, then call 811 and ask for the number of your local mental health team. They can also help you. 

For additional information about options for support and treatment in BC, visit the Finding Help section of our site.

Below you will find some key resources. A full list of resources are on the right hand side bar. 

Early Psychosis Intervention
The Early Psychosis Intervention (EPI) Program website promotes early detection, educates about psychosis and provides direction for seeking help. This website also has toolkits and information sheets in multiple languages.

BC Children's Hospital

This is an agency of Provincial Health Services Authority, providing provincial tertiary mental health services to the citizens of British Columbia. Programs include: Adult Tertiary Psychiatry, Geriatric Psychiatry, Forensic Psychiatric Services, Child & Adolescent Mental Health, Women’s Reproductive Mental Health, as well as the Provincial Specialized Eating Disorders Program for children and youth located at the BC Children’s Hospital.

Provincial Health Services Authority

Provincial Health Services Authority (PHSA) is one of six health authorities – the other five health authorities serve geographic regions of BC.

Ministry of Health

British Columbia Ministry of Health

RBC Children's Mental Health Project

RBC Children’s Mental Health Project is RBC's cornerstone “health and wellness” pillar; RBC Children’s Mental Heath Project is a multi-year philanthropic commitment to support community-based and hospital programs that reduce stigma, provide early intervention and increase public awareness about children’s mental health issues.

BC Children's Hospital Foundation

Through a wide range of fundraising events and opportunities, The BC Children's Hospital Foundation is united with its donors by a single, simple passion - to improve the health and the lives of the young people who enter BC Children's Hospital every day.