Understanding Mental Health

Psychotic Disorders

Psychotic disorders are medical conditions in which the individual experiences a psychosis.  Psychosis or a psychotic episode is considered a serious mental health problem that is associated with symptoms that can cause a severe disruption to perception, thinking, emotion and behaviour.  More specifically, symptoms of psychosis prevent the person from thinking clearly, being able to tell the difference between reality and their imagination, and acting in an appropriate, and often, odd manner.  The person experiencing a psychosis often feels distressed and overwhelmed and had trouble functioning in everyday life.  Recognizing and identifying the warning signs is very important because early intervention can reduce the severity of a psychotic episode, help slow the progress of the illness as well as reduce its impact on the family.  

Symptoms associated with a psychotic disorder:

  • The presence of a change in the person’s usual eating and sleeping habits, moodiness, lack of motivation or ability to concentrate and to maintain previous levels of functioning at work, school or everyday activities.

  • Presence of hallucinations: the person hears, sees, (or in some cases smells and feels) things that are not actually present in his/her environment. For example, a common hallucination is when one hears voices in their head.

  • Delusions may also be present: in which the person believes things that are objectively unfounded and are often strange and bizarre. For example, believing that your friends are secretly reading your mind and plotting against you; or believing that your food is being poisoned.

  • Thinking can often appear disorganized and the person may appear confused and act in a strange manner.

  • Symptoms of anxiety and depression are often present.

  • Symptoms may develop gradually (sometimes over months) or appear more suddenly.



Treatment for psychosis usually involves using a combination of ongoing therapies:

  • Antipsychotic medicines which can help relieve symptoms of psychosis. Some people may only need to take antipsychotic medicines on a short-term basis. Other people may need them for months or, in some cases, years to prevent symptoms reoccurring.

  • Psychological therapies: a variety of therapies and approaches have been shown to be successful in helping both the person with the psychosis and the family.  Psychotherapies (such as cognitive behaviour therapy) can help the individual deal with problem of thinking, reasoning, perception and problem-solving. Family therapy and psychoeducation help the individual and their family better understand the disorder, its implications and learn about strategies to manage the various challenges. Group therapy is helpful in providing peer support to learn about healthy social interaction and to develop strategies for coping with demands of daily life (work, school, social and community).

  • Social support – helping the person connect socially is essential.  In addition, providing support to address needs in terms of education, employment or accommodation is often required in order to help the individual regain appropriate functioning in the community.


Psychotic disorders in children and adolescents:

Psychotic disorders are rarely diagnosed in childhood.  However, later in adolescence these disorders can become more prevalent, although still rare (estimated 1% prevalence).  Teenagers with a psychotic disorder or experiencing a psychotic episode often have other mental health problems such as depression, anxiety and even suicidal behaviour. In addition, an adolescent diagnosed with a psychotic disorder often experiences problems with cognitive functioning (difficulty processing information, poor attention and memory), and at times even difficulties with language and motor skills.  These problems can interfere with the adolescent’s ability to function independently and can lead to problems with academic achievement and impaired social functioning.


What can parents and families do to help?

  • Recognize that your teenager needs support at many levels (family, school, social) and that support may need to be long-term.

  • Monitor medication as the teenagers may have difficulty (due to side effects, denial of the disorder, or not wanting to be different) and address any problems with the medical management team.

  • Parents need to encourage and help promote healthy living such as good nutrition, adequate amounts of sleep and physical activity. 

  • Try to find ways to reduce stress in your child’s environment (such as reducing stimulation, ensuring demands are not overwhelming).

  • Help your child/teen recognize that you are there for them (for example, you may say:  “how can I help you?”; “I am here for you, I care” etc).

  • If your child is experiencing odd symptoms (such as hallucination) stay calm and be understanding and non-judgmental. 


What can schools do to help?

  • If the student has been absent from school for a lengthy period, it is important to help and support him/her during reintegration into the school. The student may require gradual reintegration.

  • In school, a connection should be made with a support staff member (psychologist, counsellor etc) both for personal support as well as to facilitate in- school remedial support when necessary.

  • Support in school would include:

    • addressing the anxiety and stress related to academic work (for example, providing down time and opportunities relax or regroup when necessary; allowing extra time to complete work and a reduced load).

    • providing academic or educational support for the student.

    • helping to facilitate positive interactions with peers and promote social interactions.

  • Help in providing access to community supports is also important.


Links for Further Information:



Promoting mental health to strengthen school communities