Overview of Psychosis: Causes, Symptoms & Treatments

Dr. Vinci Cheung
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Psychosis, often mistakenly used interchangeably with “schizophrenia”, is in fact one of the hallmark characteristics of schizophrenia. Research found that about 2.47% of the Hong Kong Chinese adult population experience a lifetime diagnosis of psychotic disorders. As early identification and treatment can mitigate the impairment caused by psychosis and prevent further complications, it is essential to be aware and look out for the early warning signs.


Learn more about the causes, symptoms and diagnosis of psychosis and get tips for managing the condition in Hong Kong in this article.


What is Psychosis?

Psychosis is a condition that affects the brain’s ability to process information, consequently resulting in impaired contact with reality. During psychotic episodes, the individual may experience altered perceptions and thoughts, failing to distinguish between the reality and illusory disturbances.


The onset of psychosis is averaged at the age of 24 in a 2011 USA study. Apart from schizophrenia, psychosis may be a symptom of different disorders manifested by an individual. In general, mental or physical conditions, stresses and traumas can lead to the onset of psychosis.

Signs & Symptoms of Psychosis

There are 2 significant symptoms of a psychotic episode:



The perception-like experience exists in the absence of external stimulation of the related sensory organ. It should be carefully distinguished from illusions, in which the real external stimulus is misperceived or misinterpreted. Below are some common examples of hallucinations:

  • Auditory hallucination: a hallucination involving perception of sound, usually of voice
  • Visual hallucination: a hallucination involving sight, which may exist in both formed and unformed images
  • Tactile hallucination: a hallucination involving sensations of touch, most commonly of electric shocks


It is a false belief based on incorrect interpretations about the concrete external reality (also known as material reality), including cultures or social norms, which may contradict the reality, belief of most people or acknowledged proofs. Bear in mind that not all mistaken beliefs are delusions: only when such mistaken belief incorporates an irrational value judgment that defies rational judgment  would it be considered a delusion. Delusions can be divided into different categories. Common types of delusions include:

  • Bizarre: a delusion centered around a phenomenon that is unimaginable in one’s culture or among one’s peers
  • Erotomanic: a delusion of being in love with another person, who is usually of higher status
  • Persecutory: a delusion with a central theme around the individual (or someone close to an individual) being attacked, harassed or persecuted
  • Somatic: a delusion related to or affecting the body functioning or appearance of an individual
  • Thought broadcasting: a delusion in which one’s thoughts are believed to be broadcasted and thereby heard or perceived by others
  • Thought insertion: a delusion defined by the feeling that one’s thoughts  do not belong to oneself but rather are someone else’s and have been inserted into the mind
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Causes of Psychosis

Although causes of psychosis are still being studied for a better understanding and management of the condition,  research suggests that psychosis has been found to be a complicated condition manifested from the interaction between genetic and environmental factors. Below are the leading causes:

  1. Mental disorders: Illnesses, such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, may manifest psychosis.
  2. Physical disorders: Brain tumors, strokes and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) may also impact the onset of psychosis.
  3. Genetics: While multiple genes contribute to the onset, a family history of psychotic disorders may also slightly increase an individual’s probability of developing psychosis.
  4. Recreational drugs: The use of recreational drugs, including ketamine and ecstasy, may trigger psychosis.
  5. Neurochemical imbalance: Disruptions of the biochemical balance in the brain such as dopamine has significant role in psychosis.
  6. Traumas: An overwhelming amount of stress caused by abuses, accidents, bereavement or other traumas may eventually lead to psychosis.

Diagnosis of Psychosis

There are neither specific criteria nor biological tests for an individual to be diagnosed. It is best to seek advice from a psychologist, psychiatrist or other mental health professionals through a psychiatric evaluation.


As psychosis rarely sets in suddenly, psychiatrists caution to beware of the following signs:

  • Mood swings
  • Diminished performance or focus during school or work
  • Development of social withdrawal
  • Agitation or distress without any possible explanations 
  • Decrease in cognitive, social, emotional functioning

Further clinical examinations can help clinicians rule out other possible medical conditions that might explain the symptoms. The personal report of an individual about his/her experiences or background such as family history and drug use, would be considered by clinicians as well.

Treatments of Psychosis

It is paramount for an individual to be treated as early as after the first episode of psychosis. The consulted clinician may recommend coordinated specialty care (CSC), a recovery-oriented treatment for people with first-episode psychosis. Besides, the following treatments can help treat psychosis:

  1. Rapid tranquilization: When encountering psychosis, one may be distressed and is at risk of hurting others or oneself. Rapid tranquilization is necessary to relax the client quickly.
  2. Medication: Antipsychotics, such as haloperidol and chlorpromazine, can minimize hallucinations and delusions. However, they cannot treat the underlying conditions.
  3. Psychotherapy: Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and cognitive enhancement therapy (CET) are examples of psychotherapies that can help manage psychosis.

Please note that psychosis treatments, particularly antipsychotic medications, along with their side effects, need to be examined and conducted carefully by a clinician or healthcare provider.

Do you need help?

If you are looking for professional advice, you may reach out to the services below:


Hospital Authority E.A.S.Y. Programme
Hotline: 2928 3283
Available languages: Cantonese, English


Early Psychosis Foundation
Hotline: 6075 6504
Available language: Cantonese


Jockey Club Early Psychosis (JCEP) Project
Hotline: 2255 4486
Available languages: Cantonese, English


If you need immediate support, please do not hesitate to reach out for professional help. Below is a list of hotlines with 24-hour support:


The Samaritans
Hotline: 2896 0000
Available languages: English, Cantonese, Mandarin


Suicide Prevention
Hotline: 2382 0000
Available language: Cantonese


The Samaritan Befrienders Hong Kong
Hotline: 2389 2222
Available language: Cantonese


What may cause psychosis?

Psychosis can be caused by mental or physical disorders, such as schizophrenia or brain tumor. Also, it is possible to experience psychosis as a consequence of traumas and taking recreational drugs.

Can psychosis be cured?
Is psychosis the same as schizophrenia?

This article was independently written by Healthy Matters and is not sponsored. It is informative only and not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be relied upon for specific medical advice.

Dr. Vinci Cheung
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