What Are Psychotic Breaks?

June 26, 2024

Explore 'what are psychotic breaks?', their triggers, treatments, and coping strategies in our in-depth guide.

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Understanding Psychotic Breaks

When discussing mental health, it's essential to shed light on more severe conditions, such as psychotic breaks. Understanding what are psychotic breaks? can provide valuable insights into the symptoms, triggers, and causes of this mental health issue.

Definition and Symptoms

A psychotic break, or episode, refers to a stage where an individual has lost touch with reality. It's marked by three main symptoms: hallucinations, delusions, and confused and disturbed thoughts.

Hallucinations involve seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, or feeling things that do not exist outside the individual's mind. Delusions are unshakeable beliefs in something untrue, often held despite contradictory evidence. Confused and disturbed thoughts are characterized by disturbed and disrupted patterns of thought which might seem disorganized or nonsensical to others.

People experiencing these symptoms are often unaware that their delusions or hallucinations are not real, leading to feelings of fear and distress.

Triggers and Causes

Psychosis is not a disease in itself, but a symptom that can be triggered by various factors. It's treatable, much like any other illness, and research into its causes is ongoing.

Psychosis can be caused by a mental (psychological) condition, a general medical condition, or substance misuse. Psychological causes can include conditions such as bipolar disorder, depression, or schizophrenia. Each of these can potentially lead to different types of psychotic episodes.

Substance misuse, such as alcohol and drugs, is also known to trigger psychotic episodes. Abrupt cessation of these substances after prolonged use can lead to a psychotic episode, termed as withdrawal psychosis.

Lastly, psychosis can occur as a rare side effect of certain types of medicine or due to an overdose. Therefore, it's crucial to always consult a GP or a qualified healthcare professional before stopping any prescribed medication.

Understanding the triggers and causes of psychosis is the first step in addressing this mental health issue. It's equally important to know that help is available, and recovery is possible.

Types of Psychotic Disorders

Psychosis is a common symptom of various psychiatric, neuropsychiatric, neurologic, neurodevelopmental, and medical conditions. This section will focus on three primary psychiatric disorders where psychosis is often a significant factor: schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and major depression.


Schizophrenia is a psychiatric disorder that is often characterized by the presence of psychosis. It is considered a neurodevelopmental abnormality and is thought to develop in utero. However, the manifestation of psychotic symptoms and full-blown illness often correlate with epigenetic or environmental factors.

A psychotic break, or an episode of psychosis, is a common occurrence in schizophrenia. This refers to the first onset of psychotic symptoms for a person or the sudden onset of psychotic symptoms after a period of remission. Symptoms may include delusional thoughts and beliefs, auditory and visual hallucinations, and paranoia.

Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is another psychiatric disorder where psychosis can appear. This disorder is characterized by episodes of mania and depression, and in severe cases, these episodes can trigger a psychotic break.

Like schizophrenia, the manifestation of psychotic symptoms in bipolar disorder is often influenced by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. It's important to note that while a person with bipolar disorder may experience psychosis during a manic or depressive episode, they typically return to reality during periods of stability.

Major Depression

Major Depression, particularly when accompanied by psychotic features, can also result in a psychotic break. In these cases, the psychotic symptoms are typically consistent with the person's depressive themes.

For example, a person with major depression may have delusions of guilt or worthlessness, or they may hallucinate voices telling them they are bad or undeserving. These symptoms usually occur during severe depressive episodes and subside as the depression lifts.

It's important to remember that while psychotic episodes are often rooted in an original psychotic disorder, it’s also possible for severe cases of depression, anxiety, bipolar, and other conditions to result in psychosis. Understanding these disorders and their relationship with psychosis is a crucial first step towards seeking appropriate treatment and care.

Treatment and Recovery

Once an individual has been diagnosed with psychosis, it is essential to begin treatment promptly. Early intervention often leads to better recovery outcomes. Treatment for psychosis often involves a combination of medication, therapy, and rehabilitation programs.


Antipsychotic medicines are usually the first line of treatment for psychosis. They work by blocking the effect of neurotransmitters, such as dopamine, in the brain. These medications can reduce feelings of anxiety within a few hours but may take days or weeks to reduce psychotic symptoms like hallucinations or delusions.

However, it's important to note that side effects of antipsychotics can vary among individuals. Those with underlying conditions like epilepsy or cardiovascular disease are monitored closely while taking these medications to ensure their safety.

Therapy Options

Alongside medication, therapy is a crucial component of treatment for psychotic breaks. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for psychosis aims to help individuals by encouraging them to consider different ways of understanding their experiences and to achieve meaningful goals.

In addition to CBT, family intervention and self-help groups can provide beneficial emotional and social support. These forms of therapy can help individuals with psychosis cope with their condition and improve their quality of life.

Rehabilitation Programs

Rehabilitation for psychosis involves building confidence and skills to cope with the condition, with the aim of helping individuals become as independent as possible. The rehabilitation team may include a rehabilitation psychiatrist, mental health nurse, occupational therapist, social worker, dietitian, exercise coach, and more to provide comprehensive support.

Rehabilitation programs are designed to address the individual's unique needs and goals, providing a holistic approach to recovery.

In conclusion, addressing and treating psychotic breaks involve a multifaceted approach. By combining medication, therapy, and rehabilitation programs, individuals can manage their symptoms, improve their quality of life, and work towards recovery. Remember, early intervention is key, and it's crucial to seek help promptly if you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of psychosis [5].

Seeking Help for Psychotic Breaks

In the journey towards diagnosing and treating psychosis, the first step is recognizing the symptoms. Understanding these symptoms, coupled with the support from family and friends, can significantly aid in seeking professional help and managing the condition effectively.

Recognizing Symptoms

Psychotic breaks, or episodes of psychosis, are characterized by a range of symptoms. These can include confused thinking, delusions, hallucinations, changes in behavior, and altered feelings.

Confused thinking can affect a person's ability to concentrate, remember things, and make plans, even after the psychotic episode has ended. Delusions, which are false beliefs that are not shared by others, are another common symptom of psychosis. They can take various forms, such as paranoid delusions or delusions of grandeur.

Hallucinations, when a person hears, sees, smells, or tastes something that isn't there, are also a common symptom of psychosis. These can lead to feelings of agitation, distress, frustration, and even hostility.

Changes in emotions are another notable symptom of a psychotic break. Individuals experiencing psychosis may experience mood swings, feel strange or cut off from the world, or show less emotion.

While these symptoms are often associated with a psychotic disorder, it’s also possible for severe cases of depression, anxiety, bipolar, and other conditions to result in psychosis [4].

Support from Family and Friends

It's important to note that the lack of insight and distress associated with psychosis can prevent individuals from recognizing their symptoms and seeking help independently. In such cases, assistance from friends, family, or caretakers may be needed to recognize the symptoms, encourage seeking support, and facilitating treatment for the individual experiencing psychosis.

A loved one who has had psychotic episodes in the past may have been assigned a home treatment or crisis resolution team (CRT). If the person has not been assigned a team or their contact details are unknown, one can call 111 or visit 111.nhs.uk for advice. In cases where an immediate threat of danger is perceived, calling emergency services at 999 for advice is recommended.

Understanding what are psychotic breaks and the symptoms that accompany them is the first step in seeking the necessary help. This, along with support from loved ones, can make a significant difference in the lives of those dealing with psychosis. Recovery and a healthier future are possible with the correct diagnosis, treatment, and coping strategies.

Legal Aspects of Psychosis

When discussing the topic of psychotic breaks, it's also important to consider the legal implications. The laws in place affect both the treatment process and aspects of daily life, such as driving. In this section, we'll delve into the Mental Health Act (1983) and how it relates to psychosis, as well as driving regulations for those experiencing psychotic episodes.

Mental Health Act (1983)

Severe cases of psychosis can lead to compulsory detention at a hospital for assessment and treatment under the Mental Health Act (1983). This legislation outlines the circumstances under which a person can be sectioned, which includes criteria such as being a danger to themselves or others, or the necessity for treatment that can only be given in hospital.

The Mental Health Act (1983) is the primary legislation covering the assessment, treatment, and rights of individuals with mental health conditions. It stipulates that a person can only be compulsorily admitted to a hospital or mental health facility under specific conditions, ensuring that the individual is assessed regularly to determine the need for ongoing treatment or discharge. The Act also grants the right to appeal decisions to a Mental Health Tribunal (MHT), an independent body that assesses patients' status for discharge.

Driving Regulations

In the context of psychosis, certain everyday activities like driving can be affected. One's legal obligation during an episode of psychosis is to refrain from driving, and it is necessary to inform the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) about any medical condition, including psychosis, that may impact driving ability.

This regulation is not to penalize individuals with psychosis, but rather to ensure the safety of both the individual and other road users. It's important to note that once the medical condition has been reported to the DVLA, a decision will be made about whether or not the person can retain their driving license, and under what conditions.

Understanding these legal aspects is an important part of managing the condition in society. By adhering to these guidelines, individuals with psychosis can ensure they are treated fairly and that they maintain the safety of themselves and others.

Coping with Psychotic Episodes

Coping with psychotic episodes is an essential part of managing psychosis. This process often involves building coping skills and taking steps to prevent future episodes.

Building Coping Skills

Coping skills are crucial in dealing with the challenges that accompany psychotic breaks. These skills can be strengthened through various treatment modalities. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is one such approach that encourages individuals to consider different ways of understanding their experiences and to achieve meaningful goals. Family intervention and self-help groups are also beneficial forms of therapy for individuals with psychosis [6].

Rehabilitation for psychosis is another essential part of building coping skills. This process involves fostering confidence and developing skills to manage the condition and become as independent as possible. A comprehensive support team, which may include a rehabilitation psychiatrist, mental health nurse, occupational therapist, social worker, dietitian, and exercise coach, can provide this rehabilitation [6].

Preventing Future Episodes

Preventing future episodes of psychosis is a vital component of managing this condition. Antipsychotic medications are often the first line of treatment for psychotic episodes and disorders. The choice, dosing, and administration of the medication will largely depend on the individual scenario [9].

Early intervention plays a significant role in preventing future episodes. Many individuals have a good recovery with early intervention, which often involves a combination of medication and psychosocial interventions like counseling [5]. Support for families and education about the illness are also critical parts of the treatment process.

In the case of a psychotic break, it is advisable to contact a home treatment or crisis resolution team (CRT) if one has been assigned. If the person has not been assigned a team or their contact details are unknown, one can call 111 or visit 111.nhs.uk for advice. In cases where an immediate threat of danger is perceived, calling emergency services at 999 for advice is recommended [8].

By building coping skills and taking steps to prevent future episodes, individuals can better manage the challenges associated with psychotic breaks and lead healthier, more fulfilling lives.


[1]: https://www.nhs.uk/mental-health/conditions/psychosis/symptoms/

[2]: https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/psychosis/causes/

[3]: https://www.nhs.uk/mental-health/conditions/psychosis/causes/

[4]: https://www.brightquest.com/blog/a-psychotic-break-vs-a-mental-breakdown-comparing-symptoms-and-treatment-options/

[5]: https://www.camh.ca/en/health-info/mental-illness-and-addiction-index/psychosis

[6]: https://www.nhs.uk/mental-health/conditions/psychosis/treatment/

[7]: https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/psychosis

[8]: https://www.nhs.uk/mental-health/conditions/psychosis/diagnosis/

[9]: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK546579/

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