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22 Aug 2019 , by SophieRM

Understanding psychosis

If you’re struggling with a mental illness, or care for someone close who experiences mental ill health, you’ll understand how difficult daily activities can sometimes be. With psychosis, additional struggles can arise when your perception of the world becomes unbalanced, confusing and irrational.

Sophie Robinson-Mathews, who at 19 became aware of her friend’s behaviour signalling psychosis, immediately contacted his family to get in touch with his GP. She is now a Psychotherapeutic Counsellor, who works with clients experiencing psychosis (whether diagnosed with schizophrenia or not).

“Commonly, psychosis is the experience of disordered thinking: where logical and rational thoughts are overtaken by disturbing thoughts, which then affects the emotions and behaviours of the person.” Reality is often distorted, often feeling or touching things that aren’t there, hearing voices or fiercely believing in something that can’t rationally make sense.

Psychotic paranoia, associated with a person watching, following or listening to you, is often considered one of the first stages of psychosis: hallucinations, hypervigilance towards strangers, thoughts of  individuals sending your messages via impossible means (such as electrical equipment in your house) all suggest you may be experiencing early stages of psychosis.

With a diagnosis, psychosis and schizophrenia are often used interchangeably. Psychosis is actually a symptom that you can experience, whereas schizophrenia is a long term mental ill health condition. You can experience episodes of psychosis without being diagnosed with schizophrenia. Misunderstandings and stigma surrounding schizophrenia and psychosis can lead to sufferers shying away from help. But it’s essential that you find the right treatment for you.

Psychosis and schizophrenia can be terrifying, but it’s not your fault. You’re not alone in this.

If you think you are currently struggling, or have struggled in the past with psychosis, here are a few warning signs to look out for if you are worried you may be experiencing a psychotic episode.

How you can notice common symptoms in yourself

Sophie says, “You can start to withdraw from several people you previously enjoyed spending time with and feel that you cannot trust them anymore or are constantly being attacked by them. People around you start to ask you if you are ok, and perhaps they also suggest your emotional reactions are inappropriate, either because they are lacking or disproportionate (over-blown).”

You might start to notice you have let your self-care routine slide and are no longer paying attention to your basic needs. “You are spending more time using recreational substances and neglecting other aspects of your health, such as eating, bathing or wearing fresh clothing.” Sophie explains that people around you are more likely to point this out to you, which may also feed your paranoia.

The above symptoms can often be noticed in oneself, however if you are experiencing hallucinations or delusions, it’s very likely you won’t be aware at all that this is an episode of psychosis. In this case, it’s very important to notice your early warning so you can seek help immediately.

What support is available for psychosis

Common treatment programs follow a collaborative approach with antipsychotic medication and counselling/talking therapy. Sophie offers a talking therapy programme for individuals who experience psychosis. This type of treatment supports the client to develop an effective strategy for challenging delusions and hallucinations, and better managing thoughts and emotions.

“Talking therapy presents the opportunity to discover and manage environmental activators, patterns and unconscious behaviours and thoughts which perhaps exacerbate an individual’s experience. As we well as presenting a safe space, talking therapy gives an individual the opportunity to have someone listen and help with their stress management, either in relation to psychosis or other parts of their life that may not be being addressed.”

One form of talking therapy commonly recommended as an effective treatment for psychosis and schizophrenia is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). CBT teaches individual coping methods through examining your thoughts and direct behaviour towards those thoughts. The aim is to break overwhelming thoughts into smaller, more manageable actions.

Alongside CBT, Art Therapy can also be effective as it encourages creative expression in a safe, fun environment. The primary focus of this therapy is using art as a form of communication, effective for individuals who find verbalising their feelings and emotions.

“Talking therapy gives a person a structured and dedicated opportunity to explore their experience with psychosis. They’ll learn to develop strategies that hopefully begin to shift life to a place where the psychosis experience is manageable and they can live life again.”

If you think you may be experiencing psychosis, it’s important to contact your GP as soon as possible. If you aren’t ready to speak to your GP, you can speak to SANE. Go to the Emotional Support page to find out more.

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