What does it mean to be at risk for psychosis?
‘Psychosis' is an illness that usually starts around ages 12 to 25. Often years before people are diagnosed. There is a period when people who are otherwise successful at their school or job, are suddenly incapable of performing academically or doing a job. . Psychotic-like symptoms may appear at this time, but they are mild and less captivating than during a full-blown episode and may include...
Hearing or seeing things that are not really there
Believing things that may not be true (like: “the FBI is watching me”)
Having jumbled thoughts or words so that it is hard to talk
Difficulty paying attention
Difficulty telling the difference between what is real or unreal
Suddenly struggling with school or work that used to be easy
Feeling uncomfortable around friends you used to hang out with
Avoiding family and people that you were normally close to
Big changes in how you dress, bathe, or groom yourself
Losing interest in the things you used to do with friends (e.g., movies, sports, shopping)
Picking up new, perhaps unusual interests that you do alone
For some, these early symptoms never amount to anything as distressing as psychosis; for others, hallucinations and delusions become increasingly convincing as to seem real. 10% to 25% of young people report that they have experienced at least one psychotic symptom in their lifetime. More and more people that have these experiences are getting help early so that they can continue to hang out with friends, go out on dates, raise kids, and find work they want to do. These individuals manage their symptoms well and do not wait to get help when they see early signs of a developing problem. Here are two examples of real people that had developed early signs of a psychotic disorder and successfully managed it.
Her name is Erica Camus. Erica is 35 years old and works as a journalist for a newspaper website called MailOnline. Her passions are swimming, going on walks, and spending time with her partner. Her favorite things to write about are fashion and travel.
When Erica was 19, she began having strange worries that people were trying to spy on her. This belief became so intense that she could no longer write, think, or be around her friends. Eventually, her mother took her to a psychiatrist, who recommended rest and some medicine to address what appeared to be early symptoms of psychosis. Erica followed the psychiatrist’s advice. Most importantly, she took some time off and gave herself time to reboot. With the support of close friends, and especially her mother, Erica was back to writing for fashion magazines and travel logs within a year. This time, she had a new favorite topic: the need for public understanding of psychosis. Today, Erica uses her talents as a successful journalist to advocate for people with serious mental illness. You can find out more about her at https://ericacamus.wordpress.com/.
His name is Michael Hedrick. He is 29 years old. He is a novelist, who writes regularly for the New York Times on the topics of mental illness and wellness. Michael attended the University of Colorado at Boulder from 2004 to 2006, and still lives in Boulder where one of his favorite pastimes is hiking in the surrounding woods. Michael first noticed himself becoming suspicious of his friends and what they thought of him when he was 20 years old. Initially, he ignored early signs of a developing illness and began smoking marijuana and drinking heavily to drown out voices in his head that were telling him that he was a bad person. Later that year, things got worse. He became convinced that he had a plan for world peace and traveled all the way to the United Nations to announce his plan to foreign diplomats. When he arrived in New York he found the UN closed and ended up being homeless. Michael waited until he was picked up for a DUI a few years later to finally confront his illness. The experience convinced him to make some serious changes. He gave up drugs, began eating better, improving his sleep routine, and started taking medicine on a consistent basis. Importantly, Michael also started reaching out to people at a local coffee house, where he made a few friends, and even risked dating again. Michael’s writings about life as a young man dealing with psychosis and social life have made him a popular read on the internet. He is a strong advocate for not waiting until things get bad and wishes he had taken action back when his symptoms were mild.You can find out more about him at http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/author/michael-hedrick/
Telling someone you trust and get assessed
Having risk factors for psychosis does not mean actually having it. The next step after recognizing early signs that something isn’t right, is to get an assessment, which means needing to tell someone what you are experiencing.
A good first step to getting assessed is to tell someone you trust what is going on. The first person you tell could be a family member, friend, coworker, or neighbor. The important thing is to ask yourself…
Who listens when I speak?
Who is easy to talk to?
Who has helped me before?
Who stays calm when there is a problem?
Once you have told someone what is going on, ask them to help you connect with an expert who can talk to you in more detail. This could be with your regular doctor, a counselor, a social worker, a psychologist or a psychiatrist. (+1 (888)-284-6030)
Important note: Keep in mind that when you talk to a professional, everything you say is confidential and cannot get back to your family, school or employer unless you give signed permission to allow it. The only exception to this rule is if you tell the professional during the interview that you were once a child victim of unreported abuse or are now seriously thinking of hurting yourself or someone else. In these cases professionals are actually required by law to share your identity and any information that will keep you and the community safe from harm, but that is the only time.
Frequently asked questions from other young adults
If you believe that you are experiencing early signs of psychosis, you are probably thinking about what effect this will have on your life going forward. Here are some answers to questions young adults commonly ask when dealing with the ultimate question of: “What does this all mean for me?”
What does this mean for school or my job?
If you are having trouble concentrating at school or on the job, and find it more difficult to accomplish your daily goals, it may mean that you are showing early signs of psychosis. The sooner you tell someone you trust and get checked out by a professional, the quicker you will get better. It is okay to need time off from school or work, especially if your symptoms are overwhelming. Find out how you can get time off from school by talking to your parent(s), a counselor, or someone you trust.
If you work, go to the Human Resources Department at your workplace, ask how you can get time off, and take it! Get the help you need, and then see when it would be a good time to go back to work.
Does this mean I have to go live at home or in a home?
No, having signs of psychosis does not mean that you have to live at home or in a home, but these might be options you want to consider, even if just for a little while. Consider how you are going to be able to pay for a place to live, especially if you are taking time off from work. If your family members or other community members can help you out, why not consider this a possibility? This way, you would be able to save money, and if you tend to isolate, being around others may help you get better faster. Being alone is okay sometimes, but being alone too much can have a negative impact on your mental health.
Is this progressive? Will it get worse?
Currently there is no way to precisely predict who is going to develop psychosis and who is not. We do not yet have enough information to make perfect predictions. It is possible that early signs of psychosis can get worse, but not necessarily. The best thing you can do for yourself is get help early. The CORE program is specifically designed to prevent the conversion of early signs into symptoms of psychosis.
Will I have this forever?
Again, there is no way to predict the exact trajectory of early signs. For some people, early signs ultimately signify nothing more. For others, it will be necessary to cope and manage any residual symptoms that do not go away completely with treatment, either with medication, therapy, or both. Have hope! Many people in the world function in school and at a job, even if they have diagnosable psychosis. The most important thing you can do to prevent long term challenges is to get the help you need before signs of psychosis turn into an illness.
Center for Early Detection, Assessment & Response to Risk
24 Hour Mental Health and Substance Use Crisis
If under age 18, call:
+1 (800)-969-HELP (4357)
For age 18 and over, call:
New Castle County: +1 (800)-652-2929
Kent and Sussex Counties: +1 (800)-345-6785
For Police or Medical Emergency Call 911