Psychosis (young people)

Being in school, college and university with psychosis

Many people we spoke to experienced psychosis while they were studying at school, college or university and some were still in education. Andrew X was training to be a social worker and Nikki was training to be a Mental Health nurse. A few had left school and started work when they first experienced psychosis or ended their course early because of their psychotic experiences. People talked about how psychosis had affected their studies and about the help they received in the early stages of experiencing psychosis. Some also talked about the stigma and discrimination they had experienced from their peers and from school teachers and administrators.
Difficult experiences in school in the lead up to psychosis  

Being in school in the lead up to their first experience of psychosis was a very difficult time for some of the young people. Tariq, Nikki, Andrew X, Barry and Sam experienced bullying in school and felt it had contributed to their psychosis. Some felt that teachers and those in positions of authority had not intervened, and blamed them instead of the bullies. This caused them to feel frustrated and angry and some began to blame themselves, which also fed into their psychotic experiences.
People could be acting unusually at school, or dealing with other health issues such as depression and anxiety. At the time of interview, teachers did not have specialist training in mental health and many young people we spoke to felt that school staff didn’t recognise that they were struggling, or appreciate how unwell they were, and some didn’t realise themselves what was happening. There were rare occasions when a teacher noticed that things weren’t right.
Experiencing psychosis at school/college

Some people were in school or college when they had their first experiences of psychosis. Nikki, Emily and Sam remember hearing a voice while they were sitting in lessons and asking others if they had heard it.
When people were unwell other young people could be judgemental and unkind. This made it difficult to talk about what was happening. When Luke, who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, was in sixth form college he said everyone was very “fickle”. He was offered counselling but refused because he didn’t want to be labelled as “the kid that sees the counsellor”.
A few stopped attending school because they were not coping well. Aside from the psychotic experiences themselves, lack of concentration, difficulties socialising with their peers and managing with little or no sleep all affected their performance. Emily stopped going to school and worked from home instead. She tried going to college but only stayed for a month because, although she could understand the lessons, her mental health “got in the way”.

Special support from schools

Before people had been given specialist support for psychosis some people said their schools had offered them counselling and allowed them to do their work in a tutor room away from their peers, or given them extra time to complete coursework. When Joe struggled to complete his work on time, his tutor gave him extended deadlines. A few people, like Hannah, had been given a “time out” card (see Hannah talking about her experience at the start of this section), which they could show the teacher when they needed to be alone. Luke said his time out card was the first “coping mechanism” he had and that it allowed him to “get away from everything”.
Most schools did not have the resources or specialist knowledge to support people through experiences of psychosis. School, college and university counsellors typically only had expertise to help with low mood and depression, but did know to refer people on. Apart from some counselling and the help of a few key staff Andrew X didn’t get much help from school and felt they saw him as “just some lazy kid”. Fran thinks school teachers should have basic training about mental health and they should treat people with compassion.
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Having to leave school

A few people left, or were made to leave, school or college during or after their psychotic experiences. Andrew X was made to leave university because he’d fallen behind with his work, and this “tipped” him “over the edge into quite a bad psychotic episode”.
Studying with psychosis

Studying with psychosis was very challenging. Those who had managed to leave school with qualifications were often surprised at what they’d achieved. Luke completed his A-Levels, but said it was difficult. When he received his grades and found they were good he felt as if he’d “achieved something massive, by getting through those issues”. 

Being able to study was seen as very important for some, not only because having no qualifications would affect their future opportunities for employment, but also because of the friendships and extra curricula activities available at university. Nikki was in and out of hospital during her GCSE’s but has managed to get into a good college where she is studying mental health nursing. Making new friendships and being asked to speak publically about her mental health experiences helped give her a purpose and helped her to live with her voices. Those who missed out on qualifications were often worried about their future. Sam who was rejected from a college because of her mental illness worries that she won’t get a college place and that this might impact on her whole future. 

It was not only the experience of the psychosis itself, but other factors such as attending medical appointments and the side effects of medication, that affected people’s ability to keep up with study. For example, Joe found that medication he was taking made his brain foggy. Many were also experiencing psychosis and low mood and anxiety and were not sleeping well or at all.
People mentioned missing or feeling too unwell to attend lessons, and becoming isolated as friends moved on. Joe had to take time out of lessons to attend medical appointments and counselling and had little energy for his study because he was “fighting to get rid of the voices”. Luke tended to study at night time when there was no pressure from peers or parents. But this meant he was very tired and struggled to concentrate in lessons during the day.

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