Learn about psychosis and how to find help early for youth in Ontario.
Psychosis is a medical condition affecting the mind that involves some loss of contact with reality. It tends to emerge in later teen years or early adulthood. It affects males and females in equal numbers. About 3% of the population will experience an episode of psychosis at some point in their life. Psychosis can happen to anyone. It is treatable and recovery is expected.
Psychosis may be associated with other conditions, including brain injury, drug use and several types of mental illness. It can signal the start of schizophrenia, a mental illness that can be disabling if left untreated. Untreated psychosis is associated with depression, substance abuse and a greater risk of suicide.
Psychosis can change a person’s thoughts, perceptions, beliefs and behaviours. A person with psychosis may have trouble knowing what’s real and what isn’t. So, for example, a person might hear things that aren’t real (auditory hallucinations), see things that aren’t real (visual hallucinations), hold false beliefs that have no basis in reality (delusions), or have muddled thoughts. These can all be symptoms of psychosis.
Psychosis, in effect, creates an altered sense of reality. It can be a frightening and confusing experience. Often it will be others – parents, friends – who first notice signs that something’s “not quite right.”
There is no simple, known cause of psychosis. There may be a genetic link in some cases. So if a close relative has experienced psychosis, there may be an increased risk for other family members. But even then, without some kind of “trigger” or “stressor,” psychosis may never develop. For some, that stressor is drug use. But then, some drugs, like amphetamines, can prompt psychotic episodes in anyone.
Signs of psychosis
Signs and symptoms of psychosis can emerge suddenly, or very slowly. It can be more difficult to notice the changes when the onset is slow.
Signs of psychosis can include:
- withdrawal from usual activities and relationships
- lack of energy and motivation
- unusual or inappropriate behaviours
- lack of attention to personal appearance and care
- difficulty concentrating or remembering
- changes to sleeping and eating patterns.
These signs can mean many things, particularly when they happen in adolescence or young adulthood. But if they persist, they could signal psychosis. They should not be ignored.
A person with psychosis may:
- have confused or weird thoughts
- feel like their thinking has sped up or slowed down
- hear voices that others don’t hear
- see things that others don’t see
- have trouble deciding what’s real and what’s not
- believe that others can control their thoughts or actions
- believe that others are watching or following them
- find it hard to organize their thoughts or actions.
If you notice any of these symptoms, talk to your doctor. Don’t wait. Getting help early makes a difference.
Treatment and support – Early psychosis intervention
When psychosis happens for the first time, it’s referred to as a “first episode.” An episode of psychosis can last for a few hours, or can go on for days, weeks or months. Identifying and treating psychosis early can shorten the duration of the illness, reduce possible hospitalizations and reduce the need for medication. It can promote fuller and faster recovery and offer hope for the future.
Because getting help early can make such a big difference to a young person’s life, early psychosis intervention services are now available in many places across Ontario.
Early psychosis intervention is a comprehensive approach to helping people who are experiencing a first episode of psychosis. It involves a number of components such as medication, education about the illness (psycho-education), counselling and personal support, and family support.
Psychosis can lead to serious harm if left untreated. Don’t delay getting help if you suspect psychosis could be happening.
Ontario provides early psychosis intervention services across the province. Find services close to home by searching the Ontario Health Care Options directory.
Children and youth can contact:
Kids Help Phone
Free, anonymous and confidential professional phone counselling and online counselling, available 24/7 for kids and youth 20 years of age and younger.
Early Psychosis Intervention Ontario Network (EPION)
A list of programs across Ontario with contact information for each. The range of services provided at each location will vary. The site also includes links to mental health and early psychosis intervention websites in Ontario and elsewhere.
Lynx Early Psychosis Intervention Program
An early psychosis intervention program for people between the ages of 14 and 34 who live in Kawartha Lakes, Peterborough, Haliburton and Northumberland counties. Lynx helps people who are experiencing a first or early episode of psychosis get their lives back on track and stay well. Lynx works with individuals and their families to identify challenges and develop a treatment plan for each person.
Produced by the North Bay Regional Health Centre, this site contains information for youth and families about psychosis, recovery, and finding help, with links to programs across northern Ontario.
Schizophrenia Society of Ontario (SSO)
SSO offers support and guidance to families through their Early Intervention Family Support help line. This service is available to families across the province by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org or 1-800-449-6367 (Monday to Friday, 9 AM to 5 PM EST/EDT).
Mood Disorders Association of Ontario (MDAO)
MDAO provides information and support for youth and family members, including drop-in groups and recovery programs. Call 1-888-4868236 or visit the website for details.
mindyourmind is a space for youth and young adults (14-24) to find support when going through tough times.
Kids Help Phone
Youth friendly information, links and tips on what to do to help yourself or a friend.
A Sibling’s Guide to Psychosis: Information, Ideas and Resources
Published by the Canadian Mental Health Association, this free PDF is intended to provide information and support to teens and young adults who have a brother or sister experiencing psychosis.
Dealing with Psychosis Toolkit (BC)
A comprehensive guide to self-care skills, produced by the Fraser South Early Psychosis Intervention Program. It includes information on a wide range of topics, including treatment, goal-setting, dealing with symptoms, preventing relapse, stress management, social support, and more. Resources are provided for family members, friends and other support persons, plus self-help worksheets for youth.
Orygen Youth Health (OYT) (Australia)
Fact Sheets and GP Guide
Fact sheets on psychosis and other mental health topics as well as a Guide to Early Psychosis for general practitioners. GPs have a crucial role to play in the early identification and management of young people experiencing an early episode of psychosis. This guide describes the principles of early intervention and offers a practical guide to treatments.