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 Published: 28/11/2011



What is Mental Illness?

All of us, at some points in our lives will experience some psychological and emotional problems. At times, the person may benefit from some professional help in dealing with these difficulties. “Mental illness” is one way of thinking about these difficulties which views these problems as an 'illness' that effects us psychologically and emotionally. One in five New Zealanders will experience a mental illness at some point in their lives. It is important to remember that each person’s experience of mental illness is different, and that different people may think of their experiences in different ways (that is, not everyone thinks of their problems in terms of ‘mental illness’).

What is Psychosis?

Psychosis is a word that is used to describe a collection of experiences that reflect a change in how the person thinks and/or feels about the world. In general terms these experiences usually reflect some change in the person’s views of reality. When a person is experiencing psychosis this is called a psychotic episode.

What are the Symptoms of Psychosis?

  1. Disturbances in thinking (also known as ‘thought disorder’)

  • Racing thoughts or slowed thoughts

  • Confused thinking/jumbled thoughts

  • Difficulties in communicating

  1. Unusual beliefs (usually not shared by others – sometimes referred 
    to as a ‘delusion’)

  • Sometimes people develop a belief in something that they would not normally believe

  • These beliefs may be held for unusual reasons

  • Sometimes these beliefs may be the person’s way of making sense of unusual experiences, such as hallucinations.

  1. Hallucinations

  • Hearing, smelling, tasting, seeing or feeling things that others do not experience (e.g. the person may hear voices speaking to them which no one else can hear)

In addition to the above, the person may have changed feelings and/or changes in behaviour.

What is First-Episode Psychosis?

First-episode psychosis refers to the first time someone experiences psychotic symptoms or a psychotic episode (of course, this does not mean that the person will necessarily have a second episode later). The symptoms can be highly disturbing and completely unfamiliar, and may be both confusing and distressing. 

What Causes Psychosis?

A range of factors are associated with the onset of psychosis. No single cause has been identified. Stressful experiences, substance use (including street drugs such as cannabis) and family history of mental illness are believed to contribute to the onset of psychosis. Street drugs can also increase the likelihood of a relapse of psychosis and so delay recovery. Psychosis can also be associated with conditions such as ‘schizophrenia’ and ‘manic depression’, and with certain medical conditions.

This information sheet is produced by:

St. Lukes First-Episode Psychosis Team
615 New North Road
Morningside Auckland
Phone 09 8450940

Please feel free to ask any team member if you have further questions about psychosis.