Psychosis Information for youth
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My story (part 1)
Now, I’m no stranger to mental illness. My mother lives with depression. My uncle and my grandmother both suffer
from schizophrenia. In grade 8, I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety. However, I started noticing new things a
during my last 2 years in high school. I was having a hard time handling school work and my part-time job. I had little
motivation to do anything, and I had a hard time concentrating. I stopped taking care of myself and I wasn’t eating
well. At first I thought it might have been the depression, but I started becoming really paranoid.
As a result, I started missing work and stopped going to class. I hid this from my parents, but my friends started to
worry. I was starting to hear voices that made me just want to hide all day. Every time I watched TV, I thought the
people on the shows were speaking directly to me. Luckily, I had a good friend who told my parents. At first I was
upset. But looking back, I’m very happy she called them, as I really wasn’t myself.
So what is psychosis?
Psychosis is a treatable mental illness that impacts thoughts, feelings and
behaviours. During a period of psychosis, people are out of touch with
reality. They may have trouble telling the difference between what is
real and what’s not. Psychosis can also be part of other conditions like:
- Bipolar disorder
- Substance use
Psychosis involves delusions and/or hallucinations. If you have psychosis,
you might be hearing things that aren’t really there. Or you might have
unusual thoughts (for example, like others are ‘out to get you’). The
sooner you get help, the easier the recovery will be.
Are false beliefs that last for a long
period of time. They can come in many
forms. Some can be quite unusual. For
example, thinking the people on the
radio are talking to you personally.
Are false experienced of one of the 5
senses (hearing, seeing, feeling, smelling
and tasting). For example, seeing things
that aren’t real.
What are some signs and symptoms of psychosis?
During psychosis, you or people around you might notice that your behaviour changes and seems a little ‘odd’. People
with psychosis may:
- Hear, see, feel, smell or taste things that aren’t there;
- Have an unusual belief about something that other people don’t understand;
- Feel suspicious or paranoid, as if someone is always watching;
- Overestimate their own importance (for example, believe they are famous);
- Have problems thinking or speaking;
- Behave in unusual ways;
- Withdraw or isolate themselves from others;
- Lack energy or motivation;
- Have trouble concentrating and paying attention;
- Not show much emotion;
- Have trouble doing everyday things like going to school, working, shopping or chores;
- Have trouble sleeping;
- Stop bathing regularly;
- Feel as if their thoughts are speeding up or slowing down.
What causes psychosis?
Psychosis is a complex illness; there isn’t just one cause. People usually notice symptoms between the ages of 16 and
30. Males usually develop symptoms at an earlier age. Psychosis can develop from a mix of factors, like:
Psychosis is more likely if you have family
members living with it, or with another
Our brains are in charge of our thoughts.
So it’s not surprising that things that impact
the brain could also contribute to psychosis.
- Brain injuries;
- Changes in brain chemicals;
- Heavy stress or trauma;
- Drugs (like marijuana,
hallucinogens or some prescription
What is a “first episode” psychosis?
Sometimes psychosis symptoms develop over a long period. Other times, symptoms happen suddenly and people
In some cases, psychotic-like symptoms may last only minutes or hours. Or a psychotic episode may last from days to
sure things don’t get worse.
How is psychosis treated?
ychosis Intervention (EPI)
treatment increases the chance that psychotic episodes will resolve.
For this reason, clinical programs like Early
Psychosis Intervention clinics are available all over Canada. These programs are designed to help reduce the impact of
psychosis on people’s lives and support them in steps toward recovery. Matching people with the right type of
medication, counselling and support helps them reach recovery more easily.
Psychosis is often a chronic disease, which means some people will have it throughout their lives. It is treatable and
manageable, though, allowing people to get on with their lives. Getting help quickly for relapses is very important for
managing psychosis effectively. Some people will only have one episode in their lifetime, while others may have
occasional relapses. If psychosis symptoms continue for more than 6 months, your doctor may make a diagnosis of
Medications are often used to help reduce symptoms. The most common types of medications are called
anti-psychotic or neuroleptics. These types of medications help to control delusions and hallucinations. You may
be able to stop medications in the future with the help of your doctor, if your symptoms are under control.
- Talk Therapy (counselling)
Support from a therapist will help you to:
- Manage stress more effectively;
- Deal with your symptoms;
- Prevent relapse;
- Solve problems.
A therapist can also educate your family about how to support you through this experience.
- Practicing coping strategies
There are many strategies that you can use to cope with psychosis. These strategies work best if your friends and
family know about them too, so that they can support you with doing them.
- Get enough sleep. In your teens, you’ll probably need about 9 hours of sleep every night.
- Avoid too much sensory stimulation.
Are you bothered by too much noise? If so, you could try:
- Focus your mind.
The brain can only really focus on one thing at a time. If you are getting upset because
your brain is focused on the hallucinations, do something else that requires all of your attention and
Examples of activities that require attention include:
phone or iPod);
- Practice grounding strategies
These techniques use sensory input to bring your brain back to reality. Here are some things you can try:
5-4-3-2-1” exercise. This uses both sensory input and concentration together:
Taking care of yourself
There are a number of things that will help you from becoming overwhelmed as you manage your symptoms.
Get organized Stay on top of things by:
- Trying to keep a regular schedule;
- Planning ahead;
- Use agendas, calendars or electronic reminders (add new tasks right away so you don’t forget);
- Use checklists or to do lists;
- Use visual reminders.
Lower your expectations for yourself while you focus on recovery. Make sure you don’t take too much on right now.
Focus on being content and keeping your stress level low. For example, it may be a good idea to cut down on the
number of classes you’re taking, or the number of hours you’re working.
Aim for balance
Try to manage your time well. Leave yourself extra time for activities. Make sure you include time for
self-care in your daily routine. Signing up for an activity like yoga, sports or art will make it easier to make
sure you’re taking care of yourself. Keeping track of how well you are keeping up with your routine will give
you a good sense of how you’re doing mentally.
Avoid drugs and alcohol
Avoid substances that can can make hallucinations worse. This includes alcohol, most recreational drugs, and common
stimulants like caffeine drinks.
Find supportive people
Surround yourself with awesome friends and family. Not only will they make your life a lot better, they will also help
Instead, keep them close and involved in your life.
Practice ‘Belly Breathing’
- Sit or stand and relax your shoulders. Place one hand on your chest, and the other on your belly.
- Close your eyes if you’re in a place where you can do this
- Breathe in deeply through the nose.
- Expand your belly out as you breathe in. Notice how the hand on your belly moves out as you inhale. Notice how
the hand on your chest stays in the same spot.
- Hold your breath for a brief moment and release slowly through your nose (if your nose is clear).
- Focus on the feeling in your belly or your nostrils as you breathe.
This is paying attention, on purpose to what is happening right now, without making any judgements
about what is happening. You can practice mindfulness anytime, anywhere. For example, as
you’re walking outside, notice the sights, sounds, smells, and sensations. Do you feel the wind on
your face? Can you smell fresh cut grass? Are squirrels chirping at each other?
Some people like to practice mindful meditation, where they sit quietly for a few
minutes, and focus attention on something. They often start by focussing on their breath.
There are many free guided meditations you can follow. Look for links at the end of this
Basic muscle relaxation exercise
- Lie down or sit comfortably.
- Tighten all the muscles in your feet, crunching your toes up. Hold this for a few seconds, then relax while
- Move to your calves, tightening and releasing the muscles as you did for your feet. Breathe out as you relax the
- Continue to tighten and relax other major muscle groups, working toward the top of your head:
Talk to yourself
A lot of people have shared that talking to themselves has helped reduce the hallucinations. Tell yourself positive
that people have given you.
Talk to others
Engage in a conversation with someone who can listen and support you without judging. Consider calling someone or a
phone support line.
My story (part 2)
My family doctor referred me to an Early Psychosis Intervention clinic and they quickly decided that I was experiencing
psychosis. I learned that it’s quite common for people with psychosis to have other mental illnesses. And with my
My counsellor helped me to gain more control over my life by reducing the stresses. No more staying up until the wee
hours of the morning. No more drinking and partying. Eating a regular, healthy diet and exercising everyday gave me a
good routine and helped me structure my life.
Although I had to take some time off from school, I was able to return with a reduced course load. This was a big shift
I don’t become too stimulated. I’ve also made some new friends along the way. And with the help of my counsellor,
family and friends, I’m a lot more thankful for the simple things in life
Finding help in Ottawa
In a crisis?
- Child, Youth and Family
Crisis Line for Eastern Ontario, 613-260-2360 or toll-free, 1-877-377-7775
- Ottawa Hospital (The) - Mental Health Mobile Crisis Team 613-722-6914 toll free 1-866-996-0991
Services in Ottawa
Still looking for help in Ottawa? eMental Health is a bilingual directory of mental health services and resources
for Ottawa, Eastern Ontario and Canada.
Finding help in Eastern Ontario
In a crisis?
Child, Youth and Family Crisis Line for Eastern Ontario, 613-260-2360 or toll-free, 1-877-377-7775
Services in Eastern Ontario
613-735-2374 or toll-free 1-800-465-1870
Gananoque and Prescott. 613-498-4844
Smiths Falls and Perth. 613-283-8260
- Stormont, Dundas, Glengarry and Akwesasne (Cornwall Island): Single Point Access-for all child, youth, family and
wall and area: Child and Youth Counselling Services (CYCS)- (Cornwall Community Hospital) provides
Still looking for help in Eastern Ontario? eMental Health is a bilingual directory of mental health services and
resources for Ottawa, Eastern Ontario and Canada.
Youth Net is a mental health promotion program by youth, for youth. Offers art, snowboarding, hiking and yoga
programs for youth.
Want more information?
Useful books and handouts
- Coping with
Collins Publishers, 2006.
- What is
Psychosis: you should know... February 2000
- Youth and Psychosis
- A sibling’s
Elizabeth Lines, March 2005.
University Press 2009