‘Psychosis’ is a description of a mental illness in which your thoughts are so disturbed that you lose touch with reality. It is often severe and distressing. A psychotic episode is usually caused by an underlying mental illness.

A psychotic episode can be caused by:

  • Experiencing a stressful event – like the death of a close relative
  • Physical illness – like a severe infection
  • Drugs – legal (like steroids) or illegal (like cannabis or LSD)
  • Severe mental illness (like schizophrenia or bipolar affective disorder)

It is unusual to develop a psychosis before your mid-teens.

What is it like to have a psychosis?

People with psychosis experience some very unusual thoughts and experiences. These are often unpleasant or distressing. These can appear suddenly, or come on very gradually. Friends and family may be the first to notice that something is wrong. Friends and family may also notice that the young person seems to have changed their personality.

Unusual experiences include:

  • Unusual beliefs (delusions). These are very strong beliefs that other people would say were obviously untrue – for example the young person may believe that they have special powers, or that the government are spying on them
  • Thought disorder. This is the experience that your thoughts are jumbled, and that you cannot follow a single thought through. Other people may find it very difficult, if not impossible, to follow what you are saying.
  • Hallucinations. These are experiences (hearing, seeing, feeling, smelling) that appear real to the young person, even though there is nothing happening. The young person may hear voices talking about them or what they are doing. This can be very frightening.

How to get help

As well as being distressing and frightening, psychosis can be the sign of a serious mental illness. It is important to seek help quickly. The sooner you seek help, the sooner you can start treatment. In Devon, there are 2 services that accept referrals for young people with psychosis: Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) and Specialist Treatment for Early Psychosis (STEP).

CAMHS is the agency that works with young people with mental health problems and STEP offers early intervention for people with psychosis. When a young person with psychosis is referred to either service, the 2 agencies will work together to offer:

  • Assessment
  • Early intervention
  • Support to the young person and their family

Young people with psychosis may need admission to an adolescent mental health unit to make sure they are safe, make an assessment, and stabilise on treatment.


The treatment of psychosis involves

  • Ensuring the young person is safe
  • Treating the psychotic symptoms
  • Treating any underlying illness.

Psychotic symptoms are usually treated with medications called ‘antipsychotics’. These can have a range of side effects. Young people are monitored closely by the team to see how they respond to medication, and to minimise side effects.

If there is an underlying cause, such as drug use, the young person may need specialist help with this.

The team will also work with the young person and their family to help them to understand the illness, manage it, and prevent it coming back. They will support the young person in getting back into education or work.

What is the process?

Location of Centres

We will arrange to see you at a location convenient to you or near to your home, which may or may not be listed below. You should not visit the locations below unless we have sent you an appointment and requested that you do. If you need help please contact us using the number on this page.


Children and Family Health Devon

Single Point of Access Team
1a Capital Court
Bittern Road
Sowton Industrial Estate
Exeter EX2 7FW

t: 0330 0245 321