It can be very distressing to realize that someone close to you is experiencing psychosis. You may feel shocked, confused, bewildered and guilty. There is no right or wrong way to feel.

You may find it hard to take the first step to obtain help. There can be many reasons for this. You may be unsure what the problem is. The person experiencing a psychotic episode may not wish to get help. They may not even know that they are unwell. It can be extremely difficult to cope with a person who is in a psychotic state.

The person you care about may need help to find out exactly what is happening and what type of treatment is required. Help is also needed for families, partners and friends so you can understand what is going on. You need to find out how to be involved in the assessment, treatment and recovery process.

Often the first step is to visit the person's family physician. The physician can then refer the person to more specialized professionals such as psychiatrists, mental health centres, or programs that specialize in early psychosis.

When to consider getting help

A referral to an early intervention in psychosis program is a good idea if some of these signs are present:

How to make a referral

Call one of the programs listed on this website. Pick one that serves the area in which the person lives. You will speak with an intake worker who will ask you some questions, assess the situation and talk to you about what's next. This information helps to determine whether the individual may fit into the program and what other services may be needed.

The intake worker may need the person to seek help from the program themselves before they can provide services to him/her. Sometimes the person you are worried about may be unwilling to seek help. The intake worker will suggest strategies for you to try. They can also give ideas for other service options (e.g., programs that have the capacity to visit the person in his/her home) that may work to engage the person to seek help. You may also want to call one of the family support programs listed on this website for additional suggestions. Family programs also offer support for yourself and the rest of your family.

How to be supportive

By reading the information on this website, you already are being supportive. Family, partners and friends are very important in the process of recovery. When a person is recovering from their psychotic episode you can provide love, stability, understanding and reassurance. Listed below are other things you can do.

Check on the person's safety

Always take talk of suicide or self-harm seriously. It is important to stay calm. You can:

Try to get their agreement to get help

Give hope. Assure the person that help is available and that things can get better. Point out that seeking help is a sign of strength rather than a sign of weakness or failure.

Most times, the person will feel relieved that there is help available. Sometimes, however, getting the person to seek help involves overcoming such things as:

Prepare the person for what they might expect. Tell them what you know about what help is available. Reassure them that your decision to seek help is based on your best judgment. Tell them in clear and calm terms what you have noticed that makes you concerned. Reassure them that you will support them throughout. Be patient and persistent. Mental illness is treatable. Recovery is possible.

In emergency situations

In an emergency or life-threatening situation, you must ensure that the individual gets professional help immediately. This may be done by going with the individual to the appropriate service. You can use emergency resources such as your local hospital emergency department or mobile crisis program.

How to cope as a family member or friend

It is important to be yourself and to understand that psychotic symptoms are stressful for everyone. You may have a range of feelings - shock, fear, sadness, anger, frustration or despair.

Mental illness is not usually short term, and can continue for months or several years. Be prepared for setbacks, as recovery may not come quickly.

Remember that families, partners and friends also need a period of recovery and time to understand and accept what has happened. Don't keep things a secret. Talking with others, whether they are family members, friends or professionals, can be very helpful.

Stay positive. Have hope. With proper treatment, most people make a successful recovery from a first episode of psychosis.

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