Psychosis (young people)

Getting help in the early stages of psychosis

You can read here about the help people got from friends and family and about what it was like telling professionals for the first time in the early stages of psychosis. 

Getting help during the first experience

It was often other people who recognised that a young person was having unusual experiences or was struggling. The first experience often occurred when young people were having a difficult time in their lives. It could take a while to come to terms with what was happening and some, like Tariq, said they were “too scared” to tell others. People described worrying about what others would think of them and struggling to make sense of what they were experiencing and why. 

Some young people felt that more discussion and information about mental health in schools would have helped them to consider seeking help earlier. Dominic and Hannah didn’t want to accept that they were having hallucinations initially. Dominic “convinced” himself that everyone heard them and it was a normal thing. He was hearing voices for 2 years before he was diagnosed and said, “I think if I had any sort of idea of what it meant, what a voice was, that would have helped a lot.”
Fran, who has worked in the service user movement, thinks attitudes towards mental health have improved over the last ten years and that people are more accepting than they used to be. 

Help from Family and Friends

People were often apprehensive about telling family and friends about the unusual experiences they were having. Some worried about what others would think of them and this was particularly difficult for those who were still at school. People spoke about losing friendships, but also about how much they valued those friends who stayed in touch and supported them. 

Some people we spoke to felt there was a stigma surrounding mental health which made it difficult to talk openly about their experiences. A few people we spoke to had mixed or overseas cultural heritage and felt there were cultural taboos within their community that made it harder for them to talk about their mental health. Chapman, who was brought up in Zimbabwe never spoke about unusual experiences in his childhood to anyone because he was worried he would be “shunned”. Sameeha, who has mixed British African ethnicity, remembers some people looking at her in a certain way when she was experiencing her psychosis, assuming she was “possessed” or on “serious drugs”.
Telling family could be particularly difficult for some people, especially when they weren’t sure themselves what was happening to them. When the young person was studying or living away from home, family didn’t always have regular contact. When Joe started university he was making an effort to be independent and was “quite cut off” from his family during his first year.
But for some people we spoke to it was family and friends who first realised something was wrong and offered support. Barry’s mother took him to hospital during his first psychotic experience and did “all the talking” because he wasn’t able to focus. Andrew Z’s parents “noticed something was a bit odd” and booked him an appointment with his GP. Lucy’s work colleague brought her to a GP surgery and “made” her sign all the forms to register with a GP and get help. Sameeha’s flatmate was concerned when she left the house one night locking her flatmate in. It was the flatmate’s mother who brought Sameeha to A&E.
However, family and friends didn’t always understand what was happening and could miss the signs that their loved one was having an unusual experience.
Telling professionals

People often turned to their GP, Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services if they already had contacts there, or to A&E for help initially. Receiving care and treatment could mean different things including hospital stays and taking medication.
Those who were still in school, college or university also sought help from school counsellors, and others. Joe had been seeing a school counsellor due to a bereavement when he had his first experience of psychosis. When he told her he was hearing voices telling him to kill people she quickly referred him on to specialist mental health services.
A few were already seeing CAMHS for low and depressed mood when they had their first experience of psychosis.


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