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Four common symptoms of psychosis in young people

Information for GPs

GPs can watch out for these four common symptoms of psychosis in young people

Early identification of psychosis is fundamental to a young person’s recovery.

In the early stages of psychosis, appropriate and specialised treatment can aid healthy functioning and psychosocial development, enabling young people to forge their own recovery pathways and lead healthy, productive lives.

A lack of understanding of the early stages of psychosis means the illness can be missed in the general practice setting.

Dr Stephanie Taylor is a general practitioner who works within headspace Adelaide’s Early Psychosis program providing specialised support to young people experiencing psychosis.

Dr Taylor explains,

If psychosis goes untreated, the effects can be detrimental to the health and wellbeing of a young person who is struggling to make sense of the world around them.

Picking up on the early warning signs can reduce the likelihood of symptoms intensifying.


Four common signs and symptoms of early psychosis

“Signs and symptoms vary from one young person to the next.”

The symptoms a person experiences could prompt changes in behaviour, feelings and thinking and these symptoms can change over time.

Dr Taylor elaborates, “someone might start to present symptoms but less frequently and severely before they experience a first episode of psychosis. It is important to be mindful of symptoms intensifying and exhibiting on an ongoing basis.”

Disorganised thinking and speech

A young person experiencing early psychosis may appear disorganised in their thinking and speech making their conversation hard to follow. Their conversation topics may rapidly change, and sometimes their speech becomes very fast and pressured.

A person with disorganised thinking may have trouble concentrating or remembering things. They may feel as though their thoughts have sped up or slowed down, or that their thought processes are somehow different or seem changed.

Delusions or false beliefs

When a young person expresses unusual and unshakable beliefs in something that objectively cannot be true, they may be experiencing delusions.

The delusions may or may not align with their usual personal values and therefore can be experienced as distressing or exciting.

Often, delusions feel completely natural and very real to a young person. Young people with delusions may appear suspicious or tense, start talking about unusual subjects, or withdraw from family and friends. In some cases, they can display hostility towards others because they feel threatened or treated unjustly.


Early psychosis can lead to hallucinations where a young person may see, hear, smell, taste or feel things that are not actually there.

Young people may have visions, perceive objects or people in distorted ways, hear voices or sounds, or experience tastes, smells or sensations that have no apparent cause.

Changed behaviour and catatonia

Other common symptoms of early psychosis include mood swings, sleep disturbances, appetite changes or a loss of energy or motivation. The individual may become more withdrawn or no longer interested in socialising or being active.

Some young people may engage in catatonic behaviours such as staring, not moving for long periods of time, moving repetitively, or positioning their bodies in unusual ways.

Dr Taylor highlights that symptoms of changed behaviour and catatonia can be less evident and require careful assessment.

Emergent psychosis might be missed by a GP because it’s mistaken for anxiety, depression or a behavioural or developing personality issue.

The key is taking the time to develop rapport with the patient.

Young person smiling with two friends


What are the next steps?

Where a young person presents with ongoing symptoms, specialised treatment could be the right step towards managing.

headspace Adelaide’s Early Psychosis program provides case management and assertive outreach for young people aged 12 to 25 who are experiencing early psychosis. Responsive and recovery-focused treatment is delivered by a multidisciplinary clinical team, inclusive of psychiatrists and psychologists.

Eligibility for the program is determined following specialist assessment by the Early Psychosis team.

GPs and community organisations can make enquiries about the Early Psychosis program by calling headspace Adelaide on 1800 063 267.

GPs can make a referral to a young person’s local headspace service for support with general concerns around mental health, alcohol or drugs, physical and sexual health, and work and study.

headspace Adelaide provides general support, as well as the Early Psychosis program, to young people aged 12 to 25.


More information about psychosis and young people

For more information about the signs and symptoms of psychosis, we recommend these factsheets by Orygen: Psychosis and Young People and Getting Help Early for Psychosis and Young People.


headspace Adelaide is operated by Sonder

headspace centres across the Adelaide metropolitan region are supported by funding from Adelaide PHN through the Australian Government’s PHN program.

headspace National Youth Mental Health Foundation is funded by the Australian Government Department of Health.