It was a spring morning in April in Birmingham, England, and I had been suffering from severe symptoms of psychosis for two weeks. My only contact had been a nice roommate who made me dinner and left it outside my bedroom door.
At the time, I was convinced that I was Britain’s most wanted criminal and that I was being monitored by the police. I held onto this false belief, a symptom of a psychotic illness like paranoid schizophrenia, and felt overwhelmed as if the only way out was to kill myself.
I was lucky that the sun started to shine after my attempt and that gave me hope. I called 911 for help – because a psychotic crisis needs treatment in a hospital, by doctors and professionals, not by police officers or in a prison.
I’m far from alone. About 3 in 100 people will experience psychosis at some point in their lives, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, and when they do, they face a significant increase in suicide attempts, self-harm, and death. It is often overlooked that psychoses and psychotic illnesses such as schizophrenia can be treated effectively. The key is to get support early on. That’s why people like you are so important.
I want you to understand that you can help someone in a psychotic crisis – like the homeless people you may see on the streets of Los Angeles exhibiting various symptoms of psychosis, or an ailing friend of yours. It may feel daunting, but it’s worth trying.
It has helped me in my crisis that other people rely on small glimmers of hope that are always there – the sunshine, a cool breeze, good news on TV or a pet nearby are comforting in times of crisis.
However, psychosis crisis management is not a one-size-fits-all. Friends and acquaintances with psychosis have told me that this would not work for them and that they would instead prefer to be consulted or guided by a trusted person who has access to their personal safety plan (a plan created by the patient and a professional time ). the patient is stable to mitigate future crises).
However, there are still ways to help, regardless of a person’s preferred approach. For one, consider taking a mental health first aid course, which trains you to manage a mental health or substance use crisis, whether you know the person, and includes steps you can take to help someone to help before a crisis arises. It is taught in the United States, including some free offerings. Visit mentalhealthfirstaid.org for more information.
Sophie Eggleton, who teaches similar courses, told me that the most important thing about helping and comforting someone in a psychotic crisis is not to focus on fighting them with what they thought was true at the time holds.
“Don’t burden them further by prioritizing what is true for you. Just make sure they feel cared for, reassured and listened to, and focus on their safety,” says Eggleton, mental health educator and podcaster. told me on twitter. “It’s good to say you care about them, but try not to judge even if what they’re saying is atypical or unusual. Try to remain calm and caring and if possible find out if they have experienced this before. If they have treatment, they may be able to tell you what will help, or they may have a crisis team you can contact. Also, try to put her in an environment where you both feel comfortable.”
How to save a life
Pandemic stress, traumatic events and economic uncertainty have turned our world upside down. This series aims to make the cascade of threats to your mental health a little easier to manage.
What most mental health professionals like Sophie and people with psychosis like myself agree on is that staying present, even if it’s just an upbeat text message, can help when a crisis is occurring. Reaching out to someone in crisis can not only prevent a death, but also result in a person receiving early support and fewer relapses.
Feeling compassion and practicing empathy are also key to helping those in need with psychosis.
If you can imagine for a moment what it feels like to think that the world is after you, maybe you can have a little compassion for a poor soul who is suffering acutely. Think of a time when your life was scary and out of control and this will give you some insight.
“Probably the best thing you can do for someone in extreme distress is to empathize with the anxiety that often accompanies these experiences, and obviously seek medical assistance when you can,” psychologist Paul Gilbert told me. who founded compassion-oriented therapy. “And you should seek urgent medical attention if the voices indicate you are harming yourself or others.”
Psychologist Charlie Heriot-Maitland offers similar advice in his recent book, Relating To Voices Using Compassion Focused Therapy. To help someone in psychosis, he says, the best thing to do first is just be there and listen.
“If she is very distressed, then her mind is probably so organized that it will be difficult for her to process and use my suggestions,” Heriot-Maitland wrote. “Instead, I would stand by her side, listening, allowing, holding, waiting until she feels safe enough to develop her own wisdom, ideas, and plans… Warm, caring psychiatrists have the potential to help her find herself.” to feel calm, safe, validated and understood.”
That was my experience in 2009 after I attempted suicide. Along with my friendly roommate who helped me stay full, I received a warm welcome from the medical team who came to my house when I called them, including a nurse who encouraged me that I would be fine.
Resources for suicide prevention and crisis counseling
If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, seek help from a professional and call 9-8-8. The first nationwide three-digit mental health emergency hotline, 988, in the United States will connect callers with trained mental health counselors. In the US and Canada, text “HOME” to 741741 to reach the crisis text line.
I was hospitalized and diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, a disorder in which psychosis is the predominant feature. I stayed in a psychiatric hospital for only a week and responded well to antipsychotic medication. So much good has happened since then.
I earned my master’s degree in creative writing, bought my own little whitewashed cottage in a small village, and rekindled love with my childhood sweetheart, Paul. If you had told me in 2009 that I would be sitting in my own office with my own cat, my partner making breakfast while I write for the Los Angeles Times, I wouldn’t have believed it. I thought my life was over after this diagnosis. But recovery is possible.
I’ve since been diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, which is a little less troublesome than schizophrenia. I learned to live with my paranoid thoughts, and in the process they took a back seat to the real drivers of my life: love, family, and good food and drink. I’ve even started driving my own yellow hatchback around the country roads where I live.
As you drive your own streets of Los Angeles, I beg you: Please don’t give up on people with psychosis, especially when you find them in crisis. There is hope – and treatment – for them. And sometimes the first step is a kind soul realizing they need help.
https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-09-20/how-to-help-people-in-psychosis-how-to-save-a-life How to help people in psychosis