What is psychosis?

The term ‘psychosis’ is used to describe when a person loses touch with reality. Young people can behave very differently when they are feeling stressed, confused or very upset. In fact, these are rarely signs of mental illness. Psychosis is usually more severe and disabling.

How common is psychosis?

Psychosis can affect people of all ages but becomes increasingly common as people reach young adulthood.

What causes psychosis?

When a person has a psychotic episode, it can be a signal of an underlying illness. They can have a ‘psychotic breakdown’ after a stressful event, such as losing a close friend or relative. It can also be the result of the use of illegal drugs like cannabis, or a severe mental illness like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.

The phases of psychosis

In a typical case of psychosis, it can be thought of as having three stages; the prodromal phase, the acute phase and the recovery phase.

Prodromal phase:
You may notice that they have difficulty following their normal routines, such as washing, dressing, or going to school or work. They may withdraw from family and friends and lose interest in your hobbies. During this period some people also develop a feeling that “things do not seem right” or that something strange is beginning to happen. People can also begin to feel anxious or depressed. This is also described as the ‘at risk’ phase.
Whilst most people with these experiences don’t go on to develop psychosis, if you feel they are distressing you or impacting their life, then you should encourage them to consider approaching their GP or someone who they trust such a parent or tutor.

Acute phase:
During this phase, they would experience the symptoms of psychosis, such as hallucinations, delusions and changes in thinking. This is the stage where they would most commonly be referred to mental health services or to an Early Intervention Service, who will discuss treatment options with them. It may also be possible for you to refer them, or for your family member to refer themselves, directly to an Early Intervention Service.

Recovery phase:
At this stage, people start to recover, experience less of the distressing symptoms and begin to re-establish relationships with friends and family. This is also the time that people consider their plans for the future such as work, education and training. The Early Intervention Service will provide ongoing support throughout this period.

It is important to know that most people make a good recovery from psychosis

Ways to support someone with psychosis

Educate yourself
The best way to understand the illness is to look into it. There are plenty of websites that can help you gain an understanding of psychosis, including understanding treatment. You have already begun this process by accessing this website. There are plenty of resources available here.

Be compassionate, listen
It is hard to overemphasise the importance of care, kindness, listening and emotional support in times of distress, and this is often the most important thing you can offer.

Remember that recovery is possible
Your friend/ family member may feel down and unhopeful – remind them that recovery is possible. There are many mental health websites and books that can help inspire them.

Look after yourself
You may be caring for someone who is suffering from psychosis, but it is important to look after yourself too. Be realistic about what you can do, talk to someone about how you are feeling, and if things get overwhelming – Take a break
It is also important to remember that once your relative or friend is involved with services, you are entitled to a carer’s assessment. There may also be carers groups in the service or within other organisations.

Hold on
Like all mental health problems, recovery from psychosis is rarely in a straight line. It is important to hold on to hope and optimism in recovery. Your involvement can be a crucial element to their recovery.

When should they seek help?

If you think that they are at risk of causing harm to themselves or others, you can:

  • Take them to see their GP. The GP is the best point of contact.
  • Take them to the nearest A&E Department
  • Dial 999 and ask for emergency services

You should seek help from your GP immediately if you have concerns about your mental health. They should refer to you a mental health specialist for further assessment and treatment.

Your GP may ask you some questions to help determine what’s causing your psychosis. They should refer you to a mental health specialist for further assessment and treatment.

If you are currently in services and are experiencing a crisis, please refer to your care & treatment plan and contact your care co-ordinator or out of hours services.
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