Caring For Someone With Psychosis: A Guide For Families

Watching someone you love live through a psychotic episode can be alarming, confusing, and terrifying. But while you may feel helpless, it’s important to remember that you’re not alone. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 3 out of 10 Americans will experience psychosis at some point in their lives, and approximately 100,000 young adults display early symptoms of psychosis each year.

When your loved one shows the first signs of psychosis, acting quickly can help them get the treatment they need to ensure a brighter, clearer future. This guide provides tips on how to care for someone experiencing a psychotic episode and how to keep them safe until they receive professional help.

Early warning signs of psychosis

Psychosis isn’t an illness in itself, but a symptom of a greater condition, such as:

  • Schizophrenia

  • Schizoaffective disorder

  • Bipolar disorder

  • Substance abuse

Symptoms rarely come on suddenly. Instead, they are often accompanied by gradual changes in behavior, such as:

  • Decline in grades or job performance

  • Difficulty concentrating

  • Paranoia or suspicion

  • Social withdrawal

  • Poor personal hygiene

People at risk of psychosis may also have an increasingly difficult time distinguishing fantasy from reality. Knowing the risk factors and causes for psychotic episodes can help you recognize them when they happen.

Recognizing a psychotic episode

Full-blown psychotic episodes are generally characterized by two events:

  • Hallucinations are when people see, hear, or feel things that aren’t real. Examples include:

    • Voices making commentary, giving insults, or narrating thoughts

    • Imaginary or distorted visions

  • Delusions are irrational thoughts with no basis in reality. Common delusions include:

    • Belief that a person has special powers

    • Suspecting individuals or organizations of plotting against them

A person in the midst of a psychotic episode may not make sense when they speak. They may act irrationally, and in some cases, they may pose a safety risk to themselves or others.

How to respond when a loved one experiences psychosis

To keep everyone safe and avoid escalating a delicate situation, there are a few rules you should adhere to when your loved one is experiencing psychosis:

  • Speak slowly

It can be difficult to communicate effectively with someone who’s in the middle of a psychotic episode. They may have a hard time discerning sarcasm or become easily overwhelmed by loud voices. When talking, keep a calm, measured tone and always speak clearly and simply. Give them time to respond to questions, and avoid bombarding them with information. 

  • Show compassion

Though the situation can be frustrating, always remember that your loved one can’t help what is happening to them. Avoid shaming them or making them feel guilty, and don’t try to convince them that what they’re experiencing isn’t real.

  • Stay positive

Your loved one may become scared or angry, so do your best to offer comfort. Try to calmly redirect conversations related to delusions or divert their attention away from hallucinations. Above all, offer respect and love, and encourage them to seek help from a trusted therapist or medical provider.

When to seek emergency treatment

Sometimes your loved one may not be willing to seek professional help for their psychosis, but proper diagnosis and treatment is essential to relieving symptoms and improving their quality of life. Without care from a mental health provider, the condition can worsen significantly, leading to a psychiatric emergency.

If you feel as though your loved one is at risk of suicide or poses a physical threat to others, call 911 or a 24-hour mental health crisis line for emergency assistance.

Psychosis treatment at Alvarado Parkway Institute in San Diego

If your loved one is struggling with psychosis, Alvarado Parkway Institute can provide a proper diagnosis and help to alleviate their symptoms so they can live functional, independent lives. We offer inpatient mental health treatment for schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, as well as specialized dual diagnosis treatment for those struggling with a co-occurring addictive disorder. We also provide support groups and educational programs for family members to help them learn how to best care for a loved one with a mental health disorder.

For more information about any of our programs or services, call our 24-hour crisis line (619) 667-6125.