What Can Trigger a Psychotic Episode and How to Help a Loved One

What Can Trigger a Psychotic Episode and How to Help a Loved One

Psychosis. It’s a word that is often misunderstood, and one that can elicit a variety of fears, worries, assumptions, and uncertainty. But what exactly is psychosis? And what can you do if you think your loved one is experiencing it?

You may feel scared, confused, and helpless. However, it’s important to remember that you are not alone. There are many resources available to help you and your loved one through this tough time.

In this article we will look at,

  1. What is psychosis and how is it triggered?
  2. Early warning signs and symptoms of psychosis
  3. The importance of early diagnosis and treatment
  4. How to help a friend or loved one with psychosis

What is psychosis?

First, it’s important to understand that psychosis is a neurological condition caused by several factors, including genetic predisposition, brain injury, traumatic events, and drug use.

Different sources describe psychosis as

  1. NAMI Psychosis: is characterized as disruptions to a person’s thoughts and perceptions that make it difficult for them to recognize what is real and what isn’t.
  2. Dictionary.com: a mental disorder characterized by symptoms, such as delusions or hallucinations, that indicate impaired contact with reality.
  3. NHS Inform: Psychosis is a mental health problem that causes people to perceive or interpret things differently from those around them. This might involve hallucinations or delusions.

What Can Trigger Psychosis?

Psychosis can also be triggered by traumatic experiences, stress, or physical conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease, a brain tumour, or as a result of drug misuse or alcohol misuse. How often a psychotic episode occurs and how long it lasts can depend on the underlying cause. (NHS Inform)

Most Common Symptoms:

  • hallucinations – where a person hears, sees and, in some cases, feels, smells or tastes things that aren’t there; a common hallucination is hearing voices
  • delusions – where a person believes things that, when examined rationally, are obviously untrue – for example, thinking your next door neighbour is planning to kill you

The combination of hallucinations and delusional thinking can often severely disrupt perception, thinking, emotion, and behaviour.

Experiencing the symptoms of psychosis is often referred to as having a psychotic episode. (NHS Inform)

Early warning signs of psychosis.

  • withdrawal from common activities and social situations, ie: from hobbies, sports, or friend groups.
  • Paranoia, and being overly suspicious or conspiratorial of people and situations.
  • Dull emotional affect, stuck in low mood or pessimistic perspectives of the self, people, situations
  • Lack of joy, or ability to express pleasant emotions or experiences
  • Inability to get out of bed or chronic fatigue like symptoms
  • Difficulty sleeping, insomnia, and unbalanced sleeping patterns
  • Increased substance use
  • Sudden preoccupation with religious or spiritual matters
  • Blurred, rambling speech or intelligible speech

If you think a friend or loved one is in psychosis and needs help please immediately contact your family doctor, a local hospital or local social service to help.

Personal Experience of a Psychotic Episode

The importance of early diagnosis and treatment for psychosis

A diagnosis of psychosis can be a frightening, traumatic and isolating experience. However, it is important to remember that psychosis is a treatable condition. Early diagnosis and treatment is essential for the best possible outcome. Treating psychosis as soon as possible can help to prevent the condition from becoming worse. It can also help to reduce the impact of symptoms, and this can make a big difference in a person’s life. The sooner the person begins treatment, the better the chances of achieving a good recovery.

How to help a friend or loved one experiencing psychosis

Coping with guilt and fear

As a friend, parent or caregiver, guilt is something you may often feel. You might feel guilty for working too much, for not spending enough time with your loved one, or for not being able to protect them from the hardships of life. But when your loved one is in the grip of psychosis, guilt can consume you and prevent you from taking appropriate action.

Many people struggle with accepting the situation and are hesitant to act because they do not want to disturb the individual or cause any more disruptions to the relationship.

We must first accept that regardless of the path you choose, it is going to be difficult. Your choice is to face the suffering now or to sow the seeds of future and more complex suffering. It is essential that you act quickly and thoughtfully, doing your best to let go of your various worries and other impediments standing in your way.

Letting go of undue guilt, shame, and blame.

To borrow a beautiful saying from al anon,

You didn’t cause it, you can’t control it, and you can’t cure it

Very often, caregivers become overwhelmed by feelings of guilt, shame, and self-blame that cloud their ability to act and do what is best for the person’s suffering.

This is only natural and shows that you are a caring and loving person who is deeply saddened and scared about present reality. Holding onto or blaming yourself will not serve the person or yourself through this time.

Acknowledging where you can grow and improve as a caregiver is noble and necessary, taking undue responsibility and blaming yourself for what is happening is not.

Do your best to forgive yourself for the inevitable mistakes, emotional reactions, and difficult moments you have along the way. You are only human, and it is ok to struggle. Although quite difficult, doing your best to stay present and take the process one day at a time is essential to maintaining any sense of sanity and balance as you navigate this uncertain process.

If possible, it is important to find a support system of friends, family or social/professional help to guide and support you in order to help you be most helpful to your loved one. Many hospitals, community organizations provide caregiver supports.

Do not engage with the psychosis!

One of the most common patterns that emerges when caring for someone experiencing psychosis is to argue with the illness. For example,

When the person says,

“The CIA is spying on them” or that there’s people video recording or watching them through the walls, TVs or other means”.

It is imperative that you do not engage with the variety of ways the hallucinations and delusions emerge in the person’s experience. Remember, for the person, these thoughts and experiences are 100% real to them. That is the nature of the illness. This is an opportunity for empathy and to recognize how difficult it must be for them to believe these things and to lack the ability to recognize they are disconnected from reality.

Do your best not to get stuck in judgement, disbelief, and denial. They are going through a traumatic experience, and they need your understanding and love.

There is hope, one day at a time.

Finally, be patient with yourself and the person. Recovery from psychosis takes time, and there will be trials and tribulations along the way. Ensure you take care of yourself and ensure that you are not avoiding the tough decisions you must make to help your loved one and protect yourself from emotional and psychological burnout.

Here are two beautiful episodes of the State of Mind Podcast in which I discuss schizophrenia and topics in this article with two inspiring individuals (one of them is my brother) who have found recovery and created a full and meaningful life for themselves.

Mike & Jesse Discuss Living with Schizophrenia

Mike & Dave Discuss Living with Schizophrenia


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