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What is it?

Psychosis is a symptom of a variety of mental and physical illnesses – for example, it can occur in mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder, depression, or schizophrenia; it may be drug-induced; it can result from a brain injury; or be an indicator of a tumor or cyst within the brain. It is very important to get help as early as possible, as research indicates that the earlier intervention happens, the better the treatment outcome. 

Psychosis involves a loss of contact with reality. When you have psychosis, what you think is real is not the same as what other people think is real.

Most cases of psychosis are caused by a combination of genetics and environmental factors. Some people are born with the potential of getting psychosis will experience psychosis, while other people born with the same genetic risk, may never get it. Sometimes, people who do get psychosis have experienced a “trigger” like a traumatic life event, injury, illness, or have used street drugs.

How do I know?

You may notice your child is acting oddly. They may be moody or get angry often. Their grades at school may go way down and they may start spending more and more time alone. Family and friends may think they are just “going through a phase” or wonder if they’re using street drugs. If you think something is wrong, it’s always a good idea to have your child checked out by a doctor.

Signs and Symptoms

A young person with psychosis might begin to:

  • hear or see things that are not there
  • have strange beliefs they cannot be talked out of
  • become very suspicious or paranoid
  • act very differently than they did before
  • stop reacting to other people
  • speak in a way that does not make sense
  • seem to not be feeling anything
  • seem to have lost motivation to do things
  • seem to have lost interest in things that they used to enjoy
  • seem confused

No two individuals will have exactly the same symptoms or warning signs. But these are signs that may indicate your child needs help. It’s important to see a doctor right away. Psychosis can have long lasting effects, so it needs to be identified and treated as soon as possible.

For most people, symptoms of psychosis first begin between the ages of 13 and 30, with the symptoms most commonly occurring between ages 18 and 24. Men and women have the same chance of getting psychosis. The risk for psychosis is greater if other family members have experienced psychosis. 

What can be done?

Getting help as early as possible is important and minimizes the long-term effects of psychosis. Someone who might have psychosis should be checked out by a doctor or psychiatrist. Many areas in BC have Early Psychosis Intervention (EPI) programs that are an excellent resource for treatment and recovery. Remember that every person’s process for treatment and recovery will look different.

Treatment and strategies

  • Medication is very important. It often takes a while to find one that is right, as everyone’s brain is different. Learn more about medications used to treat psychosis.
  • learn about psychosis
  • learn ways to deal with stress and keep stress low to help prevent the return of the illness
  • identify what lifestyle changes could lead to better mental wellness
  • be patient – it will take time to find the best treatments and strategies that will work for each person
  • psychosocial treatments (treatments that address a person’s thoughts and behaviours and help them develop new skills to be used in social contexts) are helpful when used in conjunction with medication
  • support – having a brain illness can be hard and lonely. It helps to have caring people to talk to about it

Tips for parents

Psychosis almost always needs medical treatment, but there are things parents can do. Help your child to:

  • Take part in light exercise or other activities they used to enjoy. It’s best to start with only one or two other people around.
  • Stay away from street drugs, so that the brain can heal and stay well.
  • Keep stress low and do things that help lower stress. Take a few minutes together to breathe slowly and deeply.
  • Getting enough sleep. If your child is having trouble sleeping or sleeping too much, talk to the doctor.
  • Get well slowly and steadily. Your child may want to spend quiet time alone and may not talk or join in much. They might have trouble focusing or getting things done. While the brain is healing, it takes a while to be able to think clearly again and start to feel normal.
  • Try to speak in short, simple sentences that are easier to understand.
  • Be gentle and positive.
  • Eat healthy snacks. Keep food like cut up fruit and vegetables around.
  • Read through and use the Early Psychosis Intervention’s Dealing with Psychosis Toolkit (DWP)
Where to from here?
  • Contact an Early Psychosis Intervention (EPI) program in your region. Note you do not need a referral and can contact the program directly.
  • If there is no early psychosis intervention program in your area, then call 811 and ask for the number of your local mental health team. They can also help you. 

Looking for more information on this topic? Connect with a family peer support worker at the Kelty Centre to discover additional resources, learn more about support and treatment options, or just to find a listening ear.   

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Through real stories, expertise, and practical tips, this podcast helps families promote their mental health and wellness, navigating important topics to meet you where you are in your journey.