1. Understanding psychosis

How is the diagnosis made?

When a young person experiences a first episode of psychosis, it can be difficult to diagnose. A diagnosis is based on a clinical interview and thorough assessment completed by a specially trained professional. Currently there are no blood tests, x-rays or brain scans that can diagnose psychosis. The assessment explores:

    the patterns of symptoms
    how long the symptoms have been present
    the possible use of substances
    what other factors may have brought on the symptoms
    the person’s experience of psychosis, including their functioning in different areas of their life such as school, work and relationships.

To make an accurate diagnosis, a physician may request a physical exam and certain lab tests or blood tests in order to rule out any physical causes, such as a brain tumor or injury to the brain. The team will also want to meet with the family to gather background information that may help to understand the context of the symptoms.

Often patterns of symptoms are assessed over many months because making a diagnosis can take time. Initially, it may be more helpful to focus on the symptoms and their impact on the person’s functioning rather than on a particular diagnosis. In other words, rather than providing a diagnosis, a mental health professional will first try to find what improves a person’s functioning. It is important to remember that everyone’s experience of psychosis is different: the course and the outcome will vary from person to person.