Understanding Your Loved One’s Psychosis: Family Support Through Diagnosis and Treatment

Psychosis is a collection of mental health symptoms that can be triggered by a number of factors, often specific mental illnesses. When one family member goes through a psychotic episode, it’s difficult for the whole family. Together, it is possible to get good treatment for that loved one, to make sure they learn to manage symptoms, and to provide ongoing support for the entire family.

Psychosis is difficult to understand, for those going through it and those watching a loved one struggle. If you have a family member with a psychotic disorder like schizophrenia, or who has gone through an episode of psychosis for another reason, it’s scary to see.

What the family can do to support and help a loved one is learn more about their psychosis, help them get a diagnosis, and guide them to get the right treatment. Residential care is important for this serious mental health issue. It will provide your loved one with a foundation for managing symptoms and creating a better life in recovery.

What Is Psychosis?

Psychosis is a troubling and distressing state of mind, a set of symptoms, and often a reaction to something. It is not, in itself, a mental illness. Some mental illnesses cause psychosis, including schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, but the term psychosis describes characteristic symptoms.

This is a state in which a person has lost touch with reality to some extent. They may see or hear things that aren’t real, believe things that are false, feel detached from themselves or others, and behave and speak in strange ways. Think of psychosis as a disruption in perceptions and thoughts that makes it difficult to determine what is real and what isn’t.

An episode of psychosis may be a one-time incident, triggered by drugs or a traumatic event, or it may be a recurring set of symptoms caused by a mental illness or brain injury.

What Are the Signs of Psychosis?

To better help your loved one who is struggling, it’s essential that the rest of the family understands what psychosis looks like. This will help you recognize an episode, whether it is an acute state or a relapse of an ongoing mental illness. The most characteristic signs of psychosis are:

  • Hallucinations. A hallucination is a sensation that feels real but isn’t. Your loved one may hear, see, feel, and even smell or taste things that are not real. They are likely to be confused and unsure when something is real or not.
  • Delusions. A delusion is a persistent false belief. Even in the face of evidence to the contrary, someone who is delusional believes something to be true. Paranoia and suspicious beliefs, for instance, are typical. Someone may think the government is listening to their conversations or that someone is trying to hurt them.

To be diagnosed with psychosis, an individual must have experienced at least one of these. There are other symptoms, though, including disordered thoughts and rambling speech, unusual and inappropriate behaviors and reactions, and feelings of detachment or depersonalization.

There can also be other signs that are not always caused by psychosis. But, these may be early warnings of an episode:

  • Unusual changes in behaviors, like a drop in school or work performance
  • Difficulty concentrating, getting things done, or thinking
  • Neglecting hygiene and other aspects of self-care
  • Suspicious thoughts and behaviors
  • Spending an unusual amount of time alone
  • Extreme changes in emotions, either stronger emotions or flat, emotionless expression

Keep in mind that while it may be unsettling to watch a loved one go through these experiences, for them it is distressing and scary. Be patient and calm as you try to get them help.

What Causes Psychosis?

A common cause of psychosis is a mental illness. Bipolar disorder and depression can cause psychosis. Schizophrenia and related conditions, which include delusional disorder, brief psychotic disorder, and schizoaffective disorder, also typically cause psychotic symptoms.

Other causes can include trauma and severe stress, head injuries, and certain medical conditions like Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, lupus, and brain tumors. Abuse of drugs or alcohol may also trigger psychosis. A substance-induced episode is usually short-term, ending when the drug or alcohol is out of the system.

When to Get a Diagnosis

Any signs of psychosis should be taken seriously. In some cases, a psychotic episode causes a crisis, in which the individual is extremely distressed or even at risk of harming themselves or someone else. In other instances, the signs are more subtle.

Psychosis, however, is not something that will simply go away, no matter how mild or severe. Even if there is recovery, such as after drug use, recurrences are common. And, the underlying problem that caused the episode in the first place needs to be identified and treated, whether it’s a mental or physical illness.

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How to Help a Loved One Get Treatment for Psychosis

Sometimes treatment comes before the diagnosis, especially in cases of crisis. If you are facing a loved one going through a mental health emergency with signs of psychosis, it’s important to handle the situation safely. Keep these tips from experts in mind as you talk to someone in psychosis:

  • Don’t dispute their delusions and hallucinations, but don’t reinforce them either. You cannot talk them out of those false beliefs or sensations, but playing along also doesn’t help.
  • Instead of referencing the hallucination or delusion, address their feelings. Assure your loved one that you know they feel frightened and confused. Validate their feelings; these are real.
  • Be calm and patient, and listen to their thoughts and fears without judgement.
  • Respond in the way your loved one needs in the moment. For instance, if they feel suspicious, give them physical space and avoid eye contact. If they are paranoid you’ll leave them, stay close while calling for help.
  • If you believe your loved one may hurt themselves or someone else, call for emergency assistance.

It is important that you take all possible steps to get your loved one into treatment. Most people experiencing psychosis will not seek help on their own.

How to Provide Support During and After Treatment

If possible, get your loved one into residential treatment after any necessary hospitalization for stabilization. Inpatient care will be most helpful for managing psychosis in the long run. A treatment facility can provide a full evaluation by a team of experts who can determine the underlying causes of psychosis. This will inform an individualized treatment plan, one that meets your loved one’s unique needs.

The best scenario for your loved one is to have their family involved in treatment as much as possible. Not only will your involvement help them recover, you and the rest of the family will get the education, training, and support you need. Having a family member with psychotic episodes can be distressing for everyone, and each person should have access to professional support as needed.

Most residential treatment facilities offer family psychoeducation. These are programs that teach you about your loved one’s mental illness and show you how to support them in treatment and once they get back home.

You may also be able to get involved in family or relationship therapy. A more intimate setting, this allows you to work on communication and improving family dynamics. Group support is also a part of many treatment centers. It brings families together to learn from each other’s experiences and to get important social networking support through this difficult process.

Once your loved one is back home from treatment, everyone must take part in helping support a healthy, stable environment. This may mean creating and sticking with a routine, attending outpatient therapy sessions, maintaining a calm, quiet setting, or avoiding alcohol in the home.

Supporting a loved one through psychosis can be tough. It’s also difficult to keep the entire family feeling safe and supported. Rely on each other, get good, professional mental health care, and be willing to adapt and adjust. You will all be able to live with this condition, but it takes patience, work, and love.

If you’re concerned about a loved one and believe they may need residential care, we can help. BrightQuest offers long-term treatment for people struggling with schizoaffective disorders, schizophrenia, and severe bipolar as well as co-occurring substance use disorders and process addictions. Contact us to learn more about our renowned program and how we can help you or your loved one start the journey toward recovery.