How to help someone who’s dealing with psychosis

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Learn how to recognize the signs of active psychosis and how to help someone who may be experiencing it.

Do you think that someone you know may be experiencing psychosis? A friend or family member may be the first person who notices that something is wrong. It can be scary or unsettling to notice unusual symptoms or behaviour in someone you know, but remember that treatment is most effective when psychosis is detected early.

Signs of active psychosis

Your friend or family member may experience these signs of active psychosis:

  • hallucinations
  • hearing voices
  • seeing things or feeling strange sensations
  • feeling like they’re being followed
  • feeling like people intend to harm them
  • feeling like other people can hear their thoughts
  • believing that they have special powers
  • not being able to think clearly
  • strange or bizarre behaviour
  • talking in a way that doesn’t make sense

Talking to your friend or family member about psychosis

Psychosis is a scary and upsetting experience. Your friend or family member may feel vulnerable. If you decide to talk to them to express your concerns, it’s a good idea to be calm, warm and caring. You can:

  1. Approach your friend somewhere quiet and free of distractions.
  2. Avoid touching your friend unless they say you can.
  3. Discuss your concerns by using specific examples such as, The other day you looked frightened and were saying things that I didn’t understand.
  4. Tell them you’re worried and that you want them to be safe.
  5. If your friend is hallucinating or having delusions (unusual beliefs), try not to ‘argue’ them out of it. What they’re experiencing is real to them.
  6. Ask your friend, What would help you? If your friend has a doctor they trust, encourage them to talk to their doctor about what’s happening.
  7. If your friend doesn’t want help, don’t push the issue. Let them know you’re there for them if they want to talk in the future.

If you’ve talked to your friend and you’re still worried, share what you’ve noticed with a safe adult. It’s especially important to tell someone (like a parent, someone in your friend’s family or a teacher) if your friend seems very unwell and you think they may hurt themselves or someone else. Don’t try to handle this alone Ñ telling someone is the best way to get your friend the help they need.

Helping a friend or family member with psychosis

When someone you care about develops psychosis, it can be difficult to adjust. You may have a lot of different feelings including:

  • concern
  • disbelief
  • fear
  • grief
  • exasperation
  • sadness
  • anger
  • uncertainty
  • guilt
  • frustration
  • confusion
  • shame
  • embarrassment

All of these feelings are normal and OK. Finding out that someone you know has psychosis is a big change and everyone needs time to adjust.

Here are some things you can do to help your friend and yourself:

  • Be there for your friend or family member. You can’t fix their psychosis, but it will help them to know they have your support.
  • Remember it’s not your fault. Your friend or family member may say or do unusual things when they’re experiencing psychosis. This is caused by their illness, not by what you say or do.
  • Learn about psychosis and mental illness.
  • Connect with others who have friends or family members with psychosis or other mental disorders. Visit Resources Around Me to find support groups or associations in your community.
  • Raise awareness about psychosis and mental health. Challenge stereotypes and bullying when you encounter them.
  • Take care of yourself by eating well, staying active and getting enough sleep. You’ll be in better shape to help others if you’re healthy yourself.
  • Allow yourself to take breaks or feel frustrated – you’re doing the best you can!
  • Ask for help from others when you need it. You can always call a counsellor at Kids Help Phone – we can help you find resources in your area and it can feel good to talk.
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