My Experience of Psychosis and Tips to Help Others
Erica Crompton shares her experience of psychosis, which once lead to an attempt on her life
She offers her practical advice for anyone experiencing similar symptoms
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What is psychosis?
Psychosis is a symptom, and not a diagnosis in itself. It literally means ‘out of touch with reality’. Some people will see visions, others will hear voices. They can often be quite frightening. For me, I have what’s known in psychiatry as ‘false beliefs’ or ‘delusions’. When unwell I am convinced I’m Britain’s most wanted criminal, and this belief is unshakable, and terrifying. I often say how ironic I find it that people fear those of us with psychotic symptoms, because more often than not, the people experiencing psychosis will be terrified themselves.
Many people hear voices, or have beliefs not in keeping with reality. The key to seeking help is when strange thoughts or beliefs become disturbing and/or disrupt daily life.
The start of psychosis
The onset of psychosis will often present itself when people are young adults, around 15-22 years old. According to NICE guidelines (1) psychotic symptoms usually starts in late adolescence and early adulthood but can begin in early adolescence, although rarely before the age of 10. A psychiatrist once told me that there are 3 possible outcomes after a first episode: people will either recovery and not have any further episodes; remain stable with interment episodes, or progressively symptoms will worsen. For the latter two, over time, symptoms will be reported and a diagnosis will eventually become apparent. There are lots of different diagnosis for which psychosis is a symptom including bipolar disorders, depression and schizophrenia.
Try to seek help first from your GP – they’ll refer you to a psychiatrist. The earlier treatment is sorted, the better chances of recovery are.
People with psychosis are at greater risk to suicide than the general population. In schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders, the lifetime risk of suicide death is estimated to be 5.6% (2). In 2009, at the age of 29 years, I made an attempt on my own life. I did this because at the time I believed I was a wanted criminal and that this meant the world would be better off without me. After I had made the attempt I reasoned with myself that even wanted criminals can ‘reform’ and that 29 years old was too young to die. I then did what anyone should do after a suicide attempt and called 999. The A&E services arrived promptly and took me to hospital for treatment. Calling 999 or visiting your local A&E could save your life if you’ve made a suicide attempt.
If you’ve made an attempt on your life seek help immediately by calling 999. It could save your life. The Samaritans are also available 24/7 on 116 123.
It can take months, years even to find the right medication to treat each individual psychosis. I was lucky I found a medication that worked for me from the off. However, over time the dose has increased. While you’re trying out medications it can be worth seeing a clinical psychologist to help you through. Provisions for talking therapies on the NHS means that this isn’t always available to everyone, so it may be worth exploring private therapy. Try to seek out therapists who are members of reputable professional associations, like the BACP or UKCP. Some branches of the mental health charity Mind also offer up to 10 free sessions for those in greatest need.
Look for qualified therapists on the NHS or private, verified near you to help you through crisis while you’re trying to find a medication that works. All therapists and counsellors on welldoing.org are verified members of professional associations.
Most people with psychosis will find a medication that helps. Though not everyone is so lucky. Apart from seeking additional help from a therapist, there are various lifestyle factors that can aid recovery from psychosis and help you stay well. Sleep is essential to starving off future episodes. You can help yourself to get a good night’s sleep by exercising in the day – a walk, cycle or run will all help. Exercise will also help stave off anxiety in the day. Eat well, too. Try to get your five a day.
Mental health and physical health are closely linked so look after both your mind and your body.
Erica Crompton is the co-author of The Beginner’s Guide to Sanity: A Self-Help Book for People with Psychosis – written with Professor Stephen Lawrie (published by Hammersmith Health Books)