Trapped in a horror film: using AI to illustrate psychosis
TW// suicide, self-harm, psychosis

This film discusses suicide, self-harm, and psychosis and may be upsetting for some people. Please take care when watching.

1 in 100 people will experience psychosis in their lifetime, yet with the right treatment and support, for many it is treatable. In this unique film using Artificial Intelligence to illustrate the experience of psychosis, which we believe to be the first of its kind in the UK. We worked with Julia, a mental health campaigner, to bring to life her experience of this devastating condition.

“AI technology really works well when illustrating the experience of psychosis, my episodes often included themes about very advanced technology monitoring me!”

- Julia

Each experience of psychosis is unique
  • One

    1 in 100 people will experience psychosis in their lifetime but with support recovery is possible. The experience is not as uncommon as you think.
  • One

    Psychosis can be a one-off experience or could be linked to longer mental health conditions such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder.
  • One

    There's no one cause for psychosis. Researchers think a combination of environmental/genetics or physical health problems can increase the risk.

"Psychosis is unique for everyone.... I think this powerful short film based on my experiences gets across how harrowing psychosis can be. “
Mental Health Campaigner
“We want to push the boundaries in the way we work with our digital content. We need to keep SMI in the conversation, even if it can feel uncomfortable sometimes.”
Amanda Thomson
Head of Digital Communications
“If we want to try and know psychosis on an emotional level, short films like this are a bridge to understanding”
Tom O'Neill
Audio / Visual Manager

Mental Health Campaigner

Psychosis is unique for everyone but mine felt like being trapped in a horror film where I was constantly about to be maimed or killed. I think this powerful short film based on my experiences gets across how harrowing psychosis can be.

It's upsetting watching it back because it is one of the most difficult experiences I've ever gone through. But I hope it makes people realise that delusional beliefs can feel completely real to someone experiencing them and that it can be very scary for the person suffering from them.

I hope that people who go through psychosis find something to relate to through this video and that it can provide some insight to the loved ones of someone suffering from psychosis, as well as the general public, who might not know much about these kinds of experiences.

We often talk about mental health awareness, but psychosis is rarely mentioned in the conversation and I think it's so important that we talk about it more.

I am so grateful to the Rethink team for helping bring my experiences alive. I think it's so important to demystify these kinds of experiences and show the sometimes brutal reality of psychosis.

I think the way the film was made - using AI technology really works well for the experience as my psychotic experiences sometimes included themes about very advanced technology monitoring me! So it seems very apt that my experiences were brought alive in this way!

When I started at Rethink Mental Illness a year ago, I was fairly new to the mental health sector. I read lots of factual literature, but have gained most of my knowledge about severe mental illness from the blogs by our experts by experience. It has been humbling to speak to a wide variety of people who have been keen to share their personal stories to raise awareness, break down stigma and help and inspire others. Julia’s blog stood out to me as it was such a vivid description of psychosis, and it left me feeling uncomfortable. I felt I could ‘get inside her head’ for a few brief moments.

At Rethink Mental Illness, lived experience is at the heart of what we do. It’s testament to the many mental health charities and campaigners that as a society we can talk more openly about mental health, but that conversation hasn’t properly moved on yet to talking about severe mental illness (SMI). SMI is still sidelined.

We want to push the boundaries in the way we work, but also with our digital content. We need to keep SMI in the conversation, even if it can feel uncomfortable sometimes.

For people who live with SMI, it can still feel difficult to talk openly about conditions such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or obsessive compulsive disorder, for example, and there are even more challenges around labels such as personality disorders which are seen by some as derogatory. Experts by experience are the ones who know their conditions best, as their experiences are personal to them - and it’s up to us to amplify their stories.

So, when Tom our Audio Visual Content Manager pitched the idea of turning Julia’s experience into an animation using artificial intelligence, I was really keen to see what our animator, also called Tom, would do. My other worry was, would Julia like it?

What Tom has created using Julia’s words is pretty pioneering, and thankfully she loves it. I am pleased that as technology moves on, our Digital Team seeks new ways to keep the topic of SMI on our website and on our social media channels – and we can’t do this without lived experience. A big thank you to Julia for sharing her experience, and to all the other experts who have contributed, and continue to contribute to helping us keep severe mental illness a priority.”

Amanda Thomson
Head of Digital Communications

Tom O'Neill
Audio/ Visual Manager

When I first read Julia's piece, I found the intensity she had in her writing instantly creating very strong imagery in my own mind. I wanted to find a way to do justice to what Julia shared with us and try and find a way to elevate our work to match hers.

After chatting with a friend who's an experienced animator we agreed to cut the original script down to a shorter length with the most arresting parts remaining. We then decided that we would try something a bit different.

The imagery within the animation is created by something called clip-guided diffusion which has become better known through sites like Craiyon. It's a method of using text and prompts to generate art from a trained neural network. Julia's writing is essentially creating the imagery through Artificial intelligence (AI). This AI network can continue to refine and perfect the imagery and increase and decrease the intensity of the imagery depending on the commands we give it.

I think the final piece is fascinating and at times quite uncomfortable to watch. We never set out to try and replicate a psychotic episode, but we wanted a film which tried to empathise with and express the emotion which we felt from Julia.

I think it's right that the piece comes with a trigger warning. But I also think that if we want to try and know psychosis on an emotional level, short films like this are a bridge to understanding and worth watching.

You wake up covered in sweat. People have tapped your laptop. They’re listening in on your phone calls too. Someone is reading all your text messages before they allow them to go through. You need to find another phone so you can dial 999 and get someone to help you. - Julia

Get support
If you are concerned that you or a loved one might be experiencing psychosis, these resources can help.
  • Psychosis
    Psychosis is a term used to describe when people lose some contact with reality. Common symptoms of psychosis are hearing voices or having strong beliefs that are not shared by people within your community.

    Find out more

  • Hearing Voices
    If you hear voices, this means you hear something that other people cannot. Mental health professionals often call hearing voices ‘auditory hallucinations’. A hallucination is something you see, taste, smell or hear, that other people cannot.

    Find out more

  • Self Harm
    Self-harm is harming yourself on purpose, such as by scratching, cutting, overdosing on medication, biting or burning yourself. You may self-harm because you find it difficult to cope with your moods or how you feel.

    Find out more

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