How to Assist Early and Be Supportive Later On
International research in mental health has shown that early intervention leads to better results than waiting to address severe mental health issues. Adolescence and young adulthood are at the age of highest risk for developing psychosis or other serious mental health conditions.
Regardless of your role (police officer, elder, school counsellor, pastor, teacher, trainer, coach, physician, family member), do not underestimate the value of your connection with the young people in your communities.
You may be the one person who can provide the needed trust, support, safety and help for that young person.
Research has also shown that everyone has both “risk” factors (e.g. genetics, difficult environments, past trauma, etc.) that place them at higher risk of developing psychosis and ‘protective factors’.
Protective factors can offset risk factors. For example, a person who has many risks for developing psychosis may not because of the presence of enough protective factors such as good coping skills and great social supports.
Protective factors can also serve as strengths that help a person recover more easily when psychosis does develop. These protective factors can also include hopes, dreams and aspirations, connections to community and positive relationships.
This is where you come in… you can be a major ‘protective factor’ for a young person, in fact, you may be the only one who is able to assist them in getting help.
Important Role #1 for Non-Professionals – Helping Early Identification and Assessment
Don’t be a bystander while a young person deteriorates because of psychosis. Help them get help.
Most people are not used to recognizing psychotic symptoms and might think that it isn’t their job to do so anyway. However, if you have concerns about a person you might be the one who is in a position to help him or her before the problem gets bigger and drags on for weeks or months or even years.
Three things you can do to help someone get help early.
- Learn the early signs and symptoms of psychosis
- Be aware that if someone is acting oddly, they may be struggling with psychosis
- Help them find and get appropriate help – by talking with them about your concerns and helping them to get in contact with persons who can help them get assessed by a professional
Important Role #2 for Non-Professionals – Being Supportive
Being supportive can take many forms.
The symptoms can seem very real to the person and so they will often react as if they are real or become defensive when others try to challenge them. Other times a person can recognize what they are experiencing as ‘not quite right’ and will reach out for help.
During the possible onset of psychosis, it is important to support the person experiencing these changes as they are often confusing and frightening for the young person. Let them know you are concerned and encourage them to “check it out” by making an appointment with a professional who will assess what’s going on in a supportive, safe and comfortable environment. A friend, family or loved one come with the young person as support.
Even though this step is often the most difficult, it is also the first step to addressing the anxiety and fear that comes with not knowing what’s going on. Taking action can provide a sense of empowerment and hope for the individual and their loved ones.
Below are some simple yet powerful ways to support a person who may be experiencing psychosis:
- Simply standing alongside a young person
- Encouraging them to identify and use their strengths
- Helping to connect them to other people, services and activities
- Identifying and talking about their hopes, dreams and aspirations, or
- Just being there to listen.
All of these are actions you can take to support recovery from psychosis and do not require you to be a mental health professional, just a human being.
Treatment for psychosis includes not only medications but all the other aspects of a bio-psychosocial, spiritual model of care for a person. You can support these other aspects of care in significant ways. Some practical examples might include:
- Identify with the young person how you can best support them
- Learn about the signs and symptoms of psychosis
- Help the young person to find ways to manage environmental stressors such as avoiding substance use or developing coping skills for managing social stressors such as going to college, changes in relationships.
- Assist the young person to grow or maintain their social and peer connections
- Decrease stigma by promoting acceptance, respect and compassion
- Stay connected with the young person. Be there to listen if needed.
- Share relevant information (major changes in symptoms, good and not so good) with the professional care team
- Ask the care team how you can support the care plan.
- Provide transportation
- Provide a quiet place to study and learn
- Cheer them on at their sports games
- Provide positive feedback and recognize accomplishments
- Give more time for exams and assignments
- Give support to the family, friends and other support members to the person with psychosis.
- Provide hope
- Consider being the support person or find someone who will be if she or he decides to do the self-help workbook: Dealing With Psychosis
- Learn more about treatments and recovery
Dealing with Confidentiality and Professionals
Psychosis is a serious medical condition that needs professional assessment and treatment. However, a strong “outside” support system is crucial to recovery. You may be part of a young person’s support system. As a member outside of the professional medical services the young person is receiving treatment from, CONFIDENTIALITY is often something that causes an unnecessary wall between yourself and the medical team. Yes, Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FOIPPA) is there for a good reason! Working within the paradigms of this act, ensures people remain focused on what is really needed to be communicated.
Many agencies must adhere to this act and have policies to help guide staff in their maintaining, releasing and sharing of information about a person. If you are in doubt, ask about the policy, ask what you, as a support person, can and cannot do or expect from them.
More often than not, as a support person, you can fulfil this role quite easily without placing someone’s personal or private matters at risk.