Psychosis & Schizophrenia: What's the difference??

Psychosis image Psychosis is a general term used to describe a set of symptoms that often involve a loss of contact with reality. Schizophrenia is one of a number of psychiatric diagnoses that involve psychotic symptoms.

Psychotic disorders include an array of disorders, such as: schizophrenia, schizophreniform disorder, schizoaffective disorder, delusional disorder, brief psychotic disorder, bipolar disorder, and major depression with psychotic features, to name a few.

As well as the psychiatric conditions that are often related to stress, there can be many other factors that contribute to experiencing psychotic symptoms, such as having lesions in the brain from head traumas, physical illnesses such as Parkinson’s disease, strokes and infections or from using drugs or alcohol.

Therefore, not all psychosis is schizophrenia and professionals may often not want to make a diagnosis for some time until they see how symptoms have developed. Psychosis is also quite common with up to 2 in 100 of the general population likely to experience a psychotic disorder in their lifetime.

Many people may also experience psychotic-like symptoms (e.g. hearing ‘voices’ or experiencing hallucinations) that are not distressing and that do not easily fall under a psychiatric diagnosis. Psychotic-like symptoms can also be experienced after common life events such as a bereavement or even after missing sleep for an extended period, so it can be seen that there are a lot of factors to consider. It is generally the case that people having psychotic symptoms that are experienced as either disabling or as causing distress to the individual or others would be regarded as suitable for specialist treatment and support by trained therapists and clinicians.

Who gets Psychosis?

Psychosis occurs in 2 in every 100 people (Singleton, Bumpstead, O’Brien, Lee & Meltzer 2001 Office of National Statistics) (that’s quite common!) & can be experienced by anyone from any walk of life.

It is more common in:

  • Young people ages 14-35 years
  • Males then females
  • People living in urban areas like cities rather than out in rural areas
  • People with a relative who has psychosis
  • Those who smoke cannabis (for a review of evidence see Fergusson, Poulton, Smith & Boden, 2006). A recent ten year European study by (Kuepper and van Os et al, 2011) has also supported the strong link between cannabis and psychosis, showing that a large number of people with psychosis used cannabis before their symptoms began and that cannabis makes the disorder worse by making psychotic symptoms more persistent  (meaning that symptoms that might otherwise have gone away after a short time continue for longer.)


  • Fergusson, D., Poulton, R., Smith, P. & Boden, J. (2006). Cannabis and Psychosis, British Medical Journal, 332, 172-175.
  • Kuepper, R., van Os, J., Lieb, R., Wittchen, R., Ho¨fler, M. and Henquet, C. (2011) Continued cannabis use and risk of incidence and persistence of psychotic symptoms: 10 year follow-up cohort study, British Medical Journal 2011; 342, d738, doi:10.1136/bmj.d738
  • Singleton, N., Bumpstead, R., O’Brien, M., Lee, A. & Meltzer, H. (2001). Mental Health article sources from: Surveys of Psychiatric Morbidity among Adults in Great Britain, Office of National Statistics, available at


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