Is psychosis a diagnosis or a symptom?

Psychosis (also called a ‘psychotic experience’ or ‘psychotic episode’) is when you perceive or interpret reality in a very different way from people around you. You might be said to ‘lose touch’ with reality.

The most common types of psychotic experiences are hallucinationsdelusions and disorganised thinking and speech.

Psychosis affects people in different ways. You might experience it once, have short episodes throughout your life, or live with it most of the time.

The word psychosis is usually used to refer to an experience. It is a symptom of certain mental health problems rather than a diagnosis itself.

Doctors and psychiatrists may describe someone as experiencing psychosis rather than giving them a specific diagnosis. Some people prefer this.

If you are diagnosed with one or more of these conditions then you may experience psychosis. Alternatively, if you experience psychosis (and you have other symptoms too), then you may be given one of these diagnoses:

Some people experience psychosis on its own. If you experience psychosis for less than a month and your doctor doesn’t think that another diagnosis describes your symptoms better, you may receive the diagnosis of ‘brief psychotic disorder’.

There are a lot of misunderstandings about what it means to experience psychosis. Lots of people wrongly think that the word ‘psychotic’ means ‘dangerous’. The media often shows people with psychosis behaving like this even though very few people who experience psychosis ever hurt anyone else.

It’s important to remember that you aren’t alone and you don’t have to put up with people treating you badly. For some suggestions on things you can do to tackle stigma have a look at our information page on stigma and misconceptions.

For more information on these see our page on types of psychosis.