Glossary of Terms

What is Psychosis?

The word psychosis is used to describe conditions which affect the mind, where there has been some loss of contact with reality.

Symptoms of psychosis include changes in mood, thinking, perception (hallucinations) and behaviour as well as abnormal ideas (delusions).


  • mood swings are common
  • mood can be depressed or excited
  • emotions can seem dampened


  • thoughts can become confused, disorganised, sped up or slowed down
  • Sentences may be unclear or don't make sense
  • concentration can be affected


  • lethargy or over-activity common
  • unexplained laughter or anger
  • behaviour can be driven by abnormal beliefs eg a person who believes they are in danger may stay at home / call the police

Abnormal Beliefs

  • false beliefs, called Delusions are common
  • belief fixed and not open to logical argument
  • eg. the person may believe they are Jesus Christ, they may believe that they are being followed or that people are out to harm them


  • Changes in the way we perceive our environment are common in psychosis.
  • People can have the experience of hearing, seeing, feeling, smelling or tasting something that is not actually there. We call these experiences hallucinations. eg. a common example of an hallucination is hearing voices

Types of Psychosis

When someone has psychosis, a diagnosis of a particular psychotic illness is usually given.

  • Diagnosis means identification of an illness by a person's symptoms

When someone is experiencing a psychotic episode for the first time, it is particularly difficult to diagnose the exact type of psychosis, because many of the factors which determine the label remain unclear - often only time and close monitoring will tell.

There are a number of disorders that can present with psychotic symptoms:

  • Schizophrenia

  • Depression

  • Bipolar Disorder ( also known as Manic Depression)

  • Schizoaffective Disorder

  • Delusional Disorder

  • Drug Induced Psychosis

  • Brief Psychotic Disorder

Schizophrenia - sufferers experience at least 2 (or more) of the following: delusions, hallucinations, disorganised speech, grossly disorganised behaviour - these are known as positive symptoms - plus loss of interest, poor motivation and social withdrawal - these are known as negative symptoms.

These signs and symptoms are associated with a marked reduction in social and occupational functioning.

Depression - sometimes people who suffer from a persistent low mood also experience psychotic symptoms (also called Psychotic Depression)

Bipolar Disorder - sufferers experience mood swings or "highs and lows". Sometimes they can experience psychosis with these mood fluctuations.

Schizoaffective Disorder - sufferers experience a mood disturbance (either 'high' or 'low') with psychotic symptoms, but also experience significant symptoms of psychosis when their mood is normal.

Delusional Disorder - characterised by non - bizarre delusions (ie: plausible beliefs) without other positive symptoms of psychosis.

Substance Induced Psychosis - the psychotic symptoms are judges to be a direct consequence of drug abuse, or exposure to a medication or toxin.

Brief Psychotic Disorder - the psychotic disturbance is brief and lasts more than a day but less than a month.


Medications used to treat Psychosis

Antipsychotic - medications that target the chemical imbalance in the brain that causes psychosis. eg. Olanzapine (Zyprexa), Risperidone (Risperdal), Quetiapine (Seroquel), Clozapine (Clozaril)

Antidepressants - medications that treat depression eg. Fluoxetine (Prozac), Citalopram, (Cipramil), Paroxetine (Aropax)

Mood Stabilisers - medications that treat the mood fluctuations associated with Bipolar Disorder eg. Lithium, Sodium Valproate (Epilim), Carbamazepine (Tegretol)

Sometimes these medications are used in combination to treat psychosis.

Further information on medications can be obtained from Medsafe.


Who are the members of my health care team?

Case Manager –The health care provider whom you see the most for your mental health care in the public mental health system. They coordinate all your care with other members of the team. They can be medical doctors, or allied health specialist such as psychologists, social workers, occupational therapists or trained mental health nurses.

GP – General Practitioner/Local Doctor/Family Doctor ––Registered medical practitioners who have a general training in all areas of medicine, including psychiatry, but manage your general health care.

Psychiatric Nurse –A person especially trained to provide promotion, maintenance, and restoration of mental health, including crisis and case management. Nurses can administer medications but cannot prescribe them, whereas other allied health professionals can neither prescribe nor administer medications.

Occupational Therapist (OT) –A person trained to provide therapy through creative or functional activities that promote recovery and rehabilitation.

Pharmacist –A person licensed to sell or dispense prescription drugs.

Psychiatric Registrar –A registered medical doctor doing specialist training to be a psychiatrist.

Psychiatrist –A medical doctor who specialised in psychiatry. Psychiatry is a branch of medicine that deals with the study, treatment and prevention of mental illness and the promotion of mental health.

Psychologist – A person usually trained at a post-graduate level who works to apply psychological principles to the assessment, diagnosis, prevention, reduction, and rehabilitation of mental distress, disability, dysfunctional behaviour, and to improve mental and physical well-being.

Social Worker –A person with specialised training in individual and community work, group therapies, family and case work, advocacy and the social consequences of disadvantage and disability, including mental disorders. They can provide psychosocial treatments for mental disorders and assist with welfare needs such as finance, or accommodation.


Other Terms used

Anti-psychosis medication – A group of medications used to treat psychotic illnesses.

Delusion – A symptom of many mental illnesses. A delusion is an illogical belief that is held strongly, even in the face of evidence that it is false.

Depression – A mood disorder ranging from passing sad moods to a serious disabling illness requiring medical and psychological treatment. Major depression is a "whole body" disorder impacting on the patient's emotions (feelings of guilt and hopelessness or loss of pleasure in once enjoyed activities), thinking (persistent thoughts of death or suicide, difficulty concentrating or making decisions), behaviour (changes in sleep patterns, appetite, or weight), and even physical well being (persistent symptoms such as headaches or digestive disorders that do not respond to treatment).

Duration of untreated psychosis - the period from the onset of psychosis to the implementation of 'adequate treatment'

Hallucination – A false or distorted perception of objects or events, including sensations of sight, sound, taste, touch and smell, typically with a powerful sense of their reality.

Mental Illness – A general term for a wide range of disorders involving the brain where both psychological and behavioural symptoms may be exhibited.

Mental Disorder – A diagnosable mental illness under agreed international criteria such as 'schizophrenia'.

Negative Symptoms – Symptoms where a normal behaviour or emotion, such as motivation, socialisation, or interest is lacking. They are called negative symptoms because the behaviour or emotion has been removed from the normal range of behaviours.

Neuroleptics – Another name for anti-psychotic medication

Paranoia – An insidiously developing pattern of unfounded thoughts and fears, often based on misinterpretation of actual events. People with paranoia may consider themselves endowed with unique and superior abilities or may have the delusion that others are conspiring to do them harm.

Positive Symptoms – Symptoms such as delusions, hallucinations, disorganised thinking and agitation (called positive because the behaviour adds to what is considered normal).

Prodrome – A period of change in behaviour and low-grade symptoms experienced before an episode of psychosis.

Psychosis – This is a group of mental disorders that includes loss of contact with reality eg hallucinations or delusions and breakdown of normal social functioning and extreme personality changes. A psychotic episode may be short lived or chronic.

Psychotherapy/Psychological Intervention – A form of treatment for mental disorders based primarily on verbal communication between the patient and a mental health professional, often combined with prescribed medications. Psychotherapy can be conducted in individual sessions or in a group.

Symptom – A feeling or specific sign of discomfort or indication of illness.

Parts of this list of terms was developed by the Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists and published in the Australian and New Zealand Schizophrenia treatment guide for consumers and carers.

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Page last reviewed: 05 September 2013