For Teachers: How to identify and refer students with psychosis, a medical condition of the brain

Printable version of this resource: Teacher Fact Sheet – pdf We invite you to print and distribute this fact sheet to your colleages.

What’s the most important thing for teachers of youth to know about psychosis?

All young people who may be experiencing psychosis need to be assessed by a doctor or mental health team as soon as possible. Youth 16-30 are at the age when psychosis normally first appears, and rapid medical treatment has been shown to have a big effect on how quickly and thoroughly people recover.

What signs should I watch out for? How do I know a student may be experiencing psychosis? (excerpted from Vancouver/Richmond Early Psychosis Program with permission)

The following symptoms may indicate that an individual is experiencing psychosis. Frequently, people will display unusual behaviours before the onset of the acute psychotic episode.


  • Sensitivity and irritability when touched by others
  • Refusal to touch persons or objects; wearing gloves, etc.
  • Severe deterioration of social relationships
  • Dropping out of activities – or out of life in general
  • Social withdrawal, isolation, and reclusive
  • Unexpected aggression
  • Suspiciousness
  • Behavioural
  • Strange posturing
  • Odd or bizarre behaviour
  • Feeling refreshed after much less sleep than normal
  • Excessive writing without meaning
  • Cutting oneself; threats of self-mutilation
  • Deterioration of personal hygiene
  • Hyperactivity or inactivity, or alternating between the two
  • Staring without blinking – or blinking incessantly
  • Agitation
  • Severe sleep disturbances
  • Drug or alcohol abuse (This may be a coping mechanism: self-medicating)

Thinking and Speech

  • Things around them seem changed in some way
  • Rapid speech that is difficult to interrupt
  • Irrational statements
  • Extreme preoccupation with religion or with the occult
  • Peculiar use of words or odd language structures
  • Unusual sensitivity to stimuli (noise, light, colours, textures)
  • Memory problems
  • Severe distractibility
  • Emotional
  • Inappropriate laughter
  • Inability to cry, or excessive crying
  • Feelings of depression and anxiety
  • Inability to express joy
  • Euphoric mood


  • Reckless behaviours that are out of character
  • Significantly prolonged drops in motivation or speech
  • Shift in basic personality.

How can I help students get appropriate medical help? Who do I refer students with suspected psychosis to?

Important note: The latest research is clear that the sooner a youth with psychosis gets effective medical treatment the faster and more completely they recover. Because delays in treatment have such a big impact, it is critically important to refer  youth to specialized early psychosis intervention team wherever possible, which will see them without delay and will be aware of the most effective treatments. This is preferable to referring them to their family doctor or a mental health team.

  1. Call 811 (no area code needed) and ask for the number for an early psychosis intervention (EPI) team in your community. You, the young person, or their family will be able to call them without a referral. Here is a link to a list of teams online.
  2. If there is no EPI team in your area, then contact your local mental health team.  There are separate teams for children and youth (under 18) or adults (18+). You can call 811 to ask for contact information for these services. When you contact the service, ask to be put in touch with an Early Psychosis clinician to assess a young person for psychosis. Being specific in asking for early psychosis assessment may help speed up the process of getting the young person effective treatment.
  3. If neither of the above services exist locally, the affected person should go to their family doctor and let them know they might be experiencing psychosis.