Looking for Help

I Want to Help a Loved One

It can be very distressing to realize that someone you love is experiencing psychosis. You may feel shocked, confused, bewildered, guilty, or helpless. It may be hard to take the first step towards getting help: you may be unsure of what the problem is, or the person experiencing a psychotic episode may not realize they are unwell or want to admit to needing help. They may also need help finding out what is happening to them and what kind of treatment they require. The first step is often to visit their family physician; their doctor can then refer them to more specialized professionals, such as psychiatrists, mental health centres, or early psychosis intervention programs.

If a loved one has experienced any of these symptoms, consider a referral to an early intervention service in your area:

  • a significant change in normal personality, which lasts weeks or months
  • faster, slower, or disorganized speech that is difficult to follow
  • suspicious, guarded, or fearful behaviour
  • a severe change in sleep pattern
  • an inability to function at their normal level (e.g. can’t perform at school or work, neglects hygiene or personal affairs)
  • a preoccupation with unusual ideas (e.g. thinks they hear God’s voice, believes coded messages are being left for them in the media)

If you are in Ontario you can click here for a list of early psychosis intervention programs. Call one in your area that seems appropriate for the person you want to help. 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 will help you determine whether the program is appropriate for your loved one and what other services may be necessary.

Some programs may need the person to seek help for themselves before they can provide services to them. If the person you are worried about is unwilling to seek help, the intake worker will be able to suggest some strategies for you to try, or give you information about other service options that may work to engage your loved one to seek help. You may also want to call a family support program for additional suggestions.

If you are worried about your loved one’s safety, check in on them regularly. Always take talk of suicide or self-harm seriously. If your loved one is suicidal, stay calm and offer them your support. Be there to listen to their concerns, show them that you love them, and help them reduce any stressors that may be adding to their depression. Try to stay positive, and give them hope. Assure them that help is available and that things can get better, and that having the courage to seek help is a sign of strength rather than a sign of weakness or failure. If your loved one’s suicidal thoughts persist, talk to a mental health professional.

In an emergency situation, ensure that your loved one gets help immediately. If necessary, go with them to the appropriate service. Use emergency resources such as your local hospital emergency room or mobile crisis program.

You may find it difficult to cope with a friend or family member who is experiencing psychotic symptoms. It is important to be yourself and to understand that psychosis is stressful for everyone whose lives it touches. If you are finding your feelings particularly overwhelming, it may be helpful to talk with a friend or counsellor who can help you understand and accept what has happened to your loved one.