Psychosis and Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder and Psychosis are uncommon. Some of the features that people associate with these conditions such as mood swings or feelings of unreality can also occur in severe anxiety or secondary to drug and alcohol use. If you’re worried about your child or you are a young person worried about yourself or a friend, find out more here.

Psychosis – what is it?

Psychosis is a combination of seeing things, hearing things and believing things that other people cannot. Young people with Psychosis might hear or see things that aren’t there (‘hallucinations’), feel irrational fear, feel out of touch with reality, or believe things that don’t make rational sense (‘delusions’). This might for example take the form of being convinced that other people are watching them or trying to harm them. People can have a one-off ‘psychotic episode’ where they experience symptoms for a period of several weeks. Some people can have one episode and never have another, while other people might experience more episodes.

People might also experience some of these symptoms due to high levels of stress and anxiety, and it can be associated with heavy drug use and depression. If you are concerned your child or young adult is showing signs of psychosis, see your GP or try to persuade them to see your GP as soon as possible, but don’t panic as there is a lot that can be done to help. Note also that some people hear voices but are otherwise fine and functioning normally – see below for some more information on this. Medication (‘anti-psychotics) can be used to treat psychosis. People are also offered cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) for psychosis.


Bipolar disorder -what is it?

  • Bipolar disorder is associated with severe mood swings which often last for days or weeks at a time, rather than changing many times in a day. The person affected often doesn’t realise that they are unusually high or low and may have irrational or risky behaviour. Sometimes people who have experienced high stress or trauma also get mood swings but these more typically often go up and down in the course of one day. In severe cases, bipolar disorder may have psychotic features such as hallucinations or delusions (see Psychosis above). In such cases, medication may be needed to help bring the condition under control. However many people with Bipolar Disorder can learn to spot the warning signs and manage their condition effectively.

  • Common symptoms of Bipolar Disorder: read more details here on YoungMinds pages.
  • How do you know if you might have Bipolar Disorder?
  • Royal College of Psychiatrists information for Young People about Bipolar Disorder
  • Bipolar UKInformation and support groups for young people with bipolar. All services including helplines and online chat are available to young people, but also to parents and anyone else supporting someone with bipolar disorder. There is a helpful leaflet called “Could mood swings mean bipolar?” and one specifically about children and young people.
  • Royal College of Psychiatrists information page and video about Bipolar Disorder for parents
  • Bipolar Disorder – The Ultimate Guide by Sarah Owen and Amanda Saunders. Well-reviewed book both by those with bipolar disorder and for those who have a family member or partner with the disorder. Well set out, informative.