Psychotic features (symptoms) can be triggered by significant lack of sleep and/or by drug use. They can also come about as part of an existing or developing severe mental health crisis/disorder.

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Psychotic features (symptoms) can be triggered by significant lack of sleep and/or by drug use, such as smoking of cannabis or taking of amphetamines. They can also come about as part of an existing or developing severe mental health crisis/disorder, such as postnatal depression with psychotic features, severe depression with psychotic features, bipolar disorder with psychotic features or an emerging borderline personality disorder with psychotic features.

What are the symptoms?

One of the most frequent psychotic features or symptoms is hearing one or more voices. For the voice hearer they appear to come from outside their head from someone they can’t see, but clearly hear. Frequently, the voice is making negative comments about the voice hearer or is demanding negative actions. The latter is creating the internal challenge for the hearer as to whether to follow the negative instruction or to ignore it (or talk back to it).

Another common sign is that someone becomes increasingly convinced that his/her thoughts are being directed from an external power. A third common psychotic feature is an irrational, very angry or fearful response to loved ones, such as becoming convinced that something awful may happen.

Young people/young adults may experience psychotic symptoms on and off during the day, but also at night. Not wanting to go to sleep or sleep disturbances are very common consequences of this frightening experience, but become also a maintaining factor.

Top tips

  • Speak with a family member or friend: Find someone you trust, share your changed or confused experience of yourself and others around you, and ask them for support in finding help.
  • Professional help: You will need to be referred for an assessment by a psychiatrist who is part of an Early Intervention Service for more complex and challenging mental health problems. Speak to your GP, Pause staff or the Access Centre.
  • Stop drinking alcohol or using cannabis: This is likely to improve your changed mindset and behaviours, even if you previously found that alcohol or cannabis helped you to calm down, get to sleep or worry less.
  • Stay healthy: Ensure that you eat regularly, drink plenty of water, go for walks with someone you trust and try to get enough sleep at night.
  • Get some sleep: If you have trouble sleeping ask for help from your GP, who may refer you to a specialist service or give you a prescription to help you feel less anxious and troubled at night time.
  • Support: A person experiencing psychotic symptoms or features becomes more fearful and withdrawn; therefore there is a reliance on parents, partners or friends to take them to get help.

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