Many of us have had times when we felt like our mind was “playing tricks” on us. For a fleeting moment, we thought we heard our name spoken, or we smelled an odour that didn’t seem to have a source. This kind of experience is fairly common and something most people can safely laugh off and forget about.
For about one per cent of the people in the world, however, these moments of hearing, seeing or smelling things that aren’t really there are signs of a more serious situation. These people may have thoughts and perceptions about the world and people around them that are not based in reality. For example, they might think that someone is talking to them on a regular basis—someone who is not really there. People whose minds are having thoughts that don’t match reality are most likely affected by a mental illness called psychosis.
What Is Psychosis?
Psychosis is a serious mental illness that carries the potential for serious consequences on a person’s life, affecting the ability to work, form relationships and function on a day-to-day basis. It usually starts in a person’s late teens or early 20s and lasts over their life. The good news is, it is treatable. If psychosis is identified and treated early, there is a good chance that they will get much better.
The cause of psychosis is not known, but we do know that having a family member with the disease increases a person’s risk. We also know that using cannabis (marijuana) in the teen years produces changes in the brain that put users at a higher risk of psychosis. But this brain disorder can happen to anyone.
If you know someone who is having strange thoughts, talk to them about these thoughts and how they’re affecting them. Young people with psychosis often say they feel like their mind is playing tricks on them. They may describe seeing things that aren’t there, or having thoughts no one else shares with them. They may feel they can’t trust anyone or appreciate the things they used to love, like music, the Internet or their cell phones. They might also say their thoughts come too fast—as if they are spiraling out of control—or too slow. They may not be sleeping well and may find it hard to pay attention at school or work, or to remember things the way they used to. A person with psychosis may report feeling sad, angry or confused about how their thoughts have changed—they just want to feel better.
Signs and Symptoms
There are other signs of early psychosis to watch for. A young person may become listless, sullen or withdrawn. They might want to stay in bed all day, or stop showering or caring about their schoolwork or friends. They might act anxious, suspicious or disoriented. And, they might become extremely sensitive to sounds, smells, light, colours, and touch sensations.
If the person you know is showing signs like these, let them know you’re concerned they may have an illness in their brain that needs medicine to get better. If this is your friend, talk to their parents to make sure they’re aware it is important they receive professional help. If this is your child, review our resource links and contact IWK Mental Health and Addictions. We have specialized teams who know how to help. We will work with you and your child for the best possible outcomes.