Psychosis involves perceiving or interpreting reality in a very different way. A person may have a one off psychotic episode, they may have short episodes throughout their life, or they may live with it most of the time. Psychosis can occur as a result of excessive substance use, following child birth, as a result of severe trauma, as part of another mental health disorder (e.g. bipolar disorder) or it may form the core of their mental health problem (e.g. schizophrenia). Psychotic and bipolar disorders have a higher genetic loading than many other mental health disorders.

Psychotic symptoms include:

  • Hallucinations – seeing, hearing or sensing things that other people don’t (e.g. hearing voices, seeing people no one else can see or tasting, smelling or sensing something on one’s body, like insects crawling on one’s skin).
  • Delusions - false, often logically impossible beliefs that no one else shares. Delusions of grandeur include a person thinking they are very rich and important and control the stock markets or the weather. Paranoid delusions include a person believing others are out to kill, harm or control them.
  • Disorganised thinking – jumbled speech that is very loosely or strangely linked where the topic of conversation changes rapidly as the person jumps from one thought to the next.

Psychosis – Considerations for Elite Athletes

There is currently no strong evidence to suggest that psychosis occurs more frequently in elite athletes than in the general population. The typical age at which psychotic symptoms emerge (late adolescence / early adulthood) overlap with elite athletes’ peak performance years. Psychotic episodes tend to have a significant impact on a person’s perception and day to day functioning and as such are more likely to have a major impact on sport participation and performance than some other types of mental health problems.