Do you sometimes have the idea that you can’t think straight? Do you think that strangers are talking about you behind your back or are purposely trying to work against you? Do you hear someone talking to you when no one is around? Does all of this make you feel anxious? Are you no longer able to concentrate? Or, perhaps you think that everything is going well, but others are worried. Do they think you are confused, anxious or perhaps aggressive?

What is psychosis?

Adolescents who are psychotic often do not realise it themselves, while their friends, parents, brother or sisters are concerned. This is because people with psychosis confuse the real world with their own imaginary world. This can cause the following problems:

  • Having the feeling that you’re being followed or that you’re being sent special messages via the TV, for instance. This is called a delusion, when someone only believes his/her own thoughts even though all other people think differently. 
  • Hearing a voice or voices while you are alone and no one is within hearing distance. This is called a hallucination: hearing, smelling, tasting, feeling and seeing things that other people do not.
  • No longer being able to focus on homework, while that originally wasn’t a problem. You can’t think straight, making what you say so incoherent that other people can’t follow you. This is called thinking problems. 
  • Having an empty feeling and being gloomy, with people sometimes saying that you make a dull impression.

However, having one of the above problems does not mean that you have psychosis. There are young people who hear voices without being bothered by it or becoming paranoid because of it. In this case, they have had a hallucination but they are not psychotic. Young children may occasionally see ghosts or monsters under their bed or people’s shadows on their bedroom wall, but these are not hallucinations.

In other words, it can be quite complicated to determine whether you have psychosis. In fact, only a doctor, such as a psychiatrist, can tell you if this is the case. But to find this out, you first have to seek help. It is important that you take someone into confidence. This often makes you feel better, because it can be quite a burden to keep a secret.

What causes psychosis?

Psychosis is a kind of neural network disorder. Different parts of the brain transmit incorrect messages to each other. This causes the individual with psychosis to mix reality with fantasy without realising it. You might then begin to hear, feel, taste, smell and see things that don’t exist. And you begin to look for the meaning in everything that happens. For example, when a stranger in the street happens to look in your direction, you think he is doing so to keep an eye on you.

It is difficult to explain what exactly is going wrong in the brain and a lot is still not known about this phenomenon.
However, we do know that drugs (including cannabis) can make you psychotic! And we know that psychosis sometimes runs in the family. If one of your parents or a brother or sister has ever been psychotic, this does not necessarily mean that you will also definitely have a psychotic episode at some point. Most children with a parent, brother or sister who has been psychotic never become psychotic!
There are all kinds of diseases that can cause psychosis. Someone with autism, depression, schizophrenia or adolescents who use drugs can become psychotic. Psychosis can also sometimes be caused by fever or an epileptic seizure. There are many other causes, but the doctor can discuss this further with you.

How common is psychosis?

Every year, over 6,400 people in the Netherlands experience a first psychotic episode, marked by a peak in adolescence and early adulthood. Over 1% of the general population has been psychotic at some point.

Would you like to know more about the treatment of psychosis?

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