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Early signs of psychosis

Psychosis refers to changes in the brain that interfere with a person’s experience of his or her world. The experience of psychosis varies greatly from person to person.

Psychotic disorders rarely emerge suddenly. Most often, the symptoms evolve and become gradually worse over a period of months or even years.

Publications, posters, and brochures are available in our forms and publications library. 

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What should I know about psychosis?

  • Anyone can develop psychosis.
  • Psychosis is common and treatable and affects 3 in 100 people (NIH).
  • It usually occurs for the first time between the ages of 15 and 30 (NIH).
  • It is equally as prevalent in both males and females.

What should I look for?

The following are some of the more common signs of psychosis:

  • Everyday thoughts may be confused/jumbled or don’t join up properly
  • Sentences may be unclear or don’t make sense
  • Thoughts are sped up or come very slowly
  • Difficulties planning, reasoning, making decisions, completing tasks, following a conversation, remembering details
  • Having odd ideas
  • Shifts in basic personality
  • Mood changes (i.e., hyperactivity, inactivity, or alternating between the two)
  • Social withdrawal and isolation
  • Severe changes in sleep patterns
  • Deterioration in personal hygiene
  • Excessive writing without meaning
  • Unusual sensitivity to stimuli (such as noise, light, colors, textures)
  • Suicidal thoughts or behaviors
  • Use of alcohol and/or other drugs
  • Feeling strange and cut off from the world
  • Feelings of distrust or suspicion about others and their actions
  • Things look or sound different from what others are experiencing
  • The tone in a person’s speech may change
  • Facial expressions and physical movement may change
  • Hearing, seeing, tasting, smelling or feeling things that are not there, but seem very real to the person experiencing them
  • Hearing voices: the voices could be threatening to them or telling them to harm themselves
  • False beliefs such as being followed or monitored, or having special abilities or “powers”
  • Thinking they are being controlled by other people or forces, or that their thoughts are being broadcast so others can hear them
  • These beliefs are often held firmly, and attempts at reasoning or debating can lead to anger or mistrust

Have others experienced this?

Yes. In this 14-minute video, one parent shares her story.

Is there help?

Yes. If someone you know is experiencing some of these symptoms, you can get help. Research shows that the longer psychosis goes untreated, the harder it is to control.

New Journeys statewide plan

  • Read the Washington Council for Behavioral Health and the Health Care Authorities statewide plan.

Are you, or someone you know, in need of immediate help?

Tools for you, family, and friends

Video: "We can prevent major mental Illness"

Learn more about early psychosis in this 16-minute TEDxRosenburg talk by Dr. Ryan Melton, clinical director of the EASA Center for Excellence at Portland State University’s Regional Research Institute and an Assistant Professor of Clinical Mental Health at Northwest Christian University.

Read the New Journeys fact sheet.

Additional resources