How to Help a Loved One with Psychosis

Monday 21 December 2020
Mental Health

Table of Contents


I. Spotting Psychosis

II. Responsibility as a First Responder

III. Talking About Psychosis

IV. Handling a Psychotic Episode

V. Getting Consent to Seek Help


Spotting Psychosis

Psychosis is characterized by an impaired mental state caused by hallucinations and delusions. Someone who is experiencing psychosis will display signs that they aren’t in their right mind. Sometimes, these signs can be very subtle. A mild hallucination can be kept a secret. A deluded thought can be concealed.

To spot psychosis, you will need to look for outward signs like social withdrawal, sleeping too much, or disorganized speech. Ask yourself whether your loved one seems anxious when there is nothing to worry about. Do they bite their nails, shake their legs, or talk nervously in mundane environments? When you talk to them, do they switch topics constantly and unpredictably? Psychosis can be frightening, and hallucinations can cause real—albeit ungrounded—fear. Try to observe if your loved one suspects something or someone is out to get them. Many who experience psychosis will become fixed on certain beliefs that are out of touch with reality. 

If you think your loved one is suffering from psychosis, do not lose hope. Antipsychotic medications like Saphris (asenapine), Rexulti (brexpiprazole), Geoden (ziprasidone), and Latuda (lurasidone) are available. When you are looking out for symptoms of psychosis, the greatest cause for concern is signs that your loved one is having suicidal thoughts. Call 911 if you believe they are at immediate risk of self-harm. Read on to learn how to help once you spot psychosis in a loved one. [1] 

Responsibility as a First Responder 

It is common for a close family member or friend to be the first to notice psychosis in an individual. Being in such a position enables you to see the signs without being clouded by delusions. A person experiencing psychosis will likely feel confused, leading them to deny the truth about what is going on. If confusion renders your loved one incapable of helping themself, the responsibility may fall to you to get them the proper help.

a toy ambulance

Seeking help for your loved one may sound easy but can require incredible strength, understanding, and patience. Taking the wrong step or saying something intrusive can cause the person you are helping to close up. [2]

Talking About Psychosis

Talking to your loved one about their psychosis should start as soon as possible. It might seem like the best time to talk to your loved one about their psychosis is in between psychotic episodes when their mind is relatively clearer. However, keep in mind that they may still internalize things you say during episodes despite not appearing to listen. If possible, you should listen non-judgementally, even when they say things that don’t make sense. When replying, try not to dismiss their claims or laugh about their fears. Talking in a calm, soothing voice can do wonders for establishing a clear line of communication. [3]

Your genuine concern for their recovery may tempt you to enforce their treatment plan, but you have to be careful. Even if your loved one has been prescribed medication by their doctor, focusing too much on their disorder instead of their experience can give them the impression that you aren’t on their team anymore. [3]

Being on their team is about finding the right balance. On the one hand, you want to validate their fears. On the other, you don’t want to legitimize them. A good technique that may help is offering your perspectives without attempting to disprove theirs. By presenting another view about certain things or situations, your loved one gets an opportunity to question the delusions themselves. [2]

a child peeking out a window through the blinds

Handling a Psychotic Episode

People experiencing psychosis are generally not aggressive. However, crisis situations may still arise, so it is essential to assess the risk factors of a situation if your loved one is going through a psychotic episode. While staying calm, tailor your actions, and replies based on what they tell you through their verbal and non-verbal cues. If your loved one is displaying signs that they are paranoid, making them feel safe should be your priority. If they appear physically agitated, try not to restrict their movements. If they seem to have trouble forming sentences or replies, try talking to them slowly and in short sentences, repeating yourself as necessary.

During a psychotic episode, your loved one may act upon their delusions. Removing any sharp objects in their vicinity can help maintain the safety of all parties involved. If there are other people present, explain to your loved one who these people are. If you are unable to calm them down, be prepared to call for help.

Remember, delusions aren’t delusions to the person experiencing them. Under normal circumstances, you may be close to this person and think that they will never hurt you. However, during a psychotic episode, you should take all threats seriously. If you are frightened at any point, seek assistance immediately. When help arrives, relay your observations so that everyone at the scene is equipped to help your loved one. [4] 

Getting Consent to Seek Help

People with psychosis will often reject outside help. This can be due to fear of the unknown or denial of their disorder. Whatever the case, getting them the help they need will often require respect, empathy, and communication.

two people embracing in a supportive hug

When it comes to any mental health disorder, always respect the person’s privacy. Talk to them in private and share your concerns with them and their doctor only. When sharing your concerns, understand that they may be embarrassed about their symptoms. Assure them that what is troubling them does not speak to their character. Directly asking them if they are psychotic will may incite an aggravated response. [5]

When your loved one agrees to receive help from a doctor, learn about treatment options and the journey to recovery together. You can learn more about antipsychotic drugs like Saphris (asenapine), Rexulti (brexpiprazole), Geoden (ziprasidone), and Latuda (lurasidone), and encourage them to open up to a therapist or mental health professional. Identifying triggers and equipping them with behavioral tools can make the road to recovery smoother. Above all, let them know that they are not alone in finding their way back from psychosis. [2]

The content in this article is intended for informational purposes only. This website does not provide medical advice. In all circumstances, you should always seek the advice of your physician and/or other qualified health professionals(s) for drug, medical condition, or treatment advice. The content provided on this website is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

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