Tuesday 5 February 2013

What To Do if You're Diagnosed With Psychosis or Schizophrenia

So maybe you've just been to see a psychiatrist and have been diagnosed as having a psychotic or schizophrenic illness.  Or maybe, something has happened, the police were involved and after a spell in hospital, you have been diagnosed with one of these illnesses.  Maybe something completely different has occurred but whatever happened, you have just received the devastating diagnosis of psychosis or schizophrenia.

The first thing to do is to NOT panic.  Yes, this sort of diagnosis is scary.  Terrifying even.  But it's not a life sentence.  It may well feel like it, I know.  But it is honestly 'just' a diagnosis.  A diagnosis does not change who you are.  This sort of illness may change the things you do and how you feel but it does not change you as a person.  You are still you.

The next thing to do is to get a pen and paper or a computer.  Something you can write a document on.  You need to write about the symptoms you are currently having.  Whether it's hearing a voice or voices, seeing things, believing things that you have been told are not true, whatever your symptoms are.  You may not feel like these are symptoms.  You may believe that what doctors or psychiatrists are calling symptoms are normal experiences.  But regardless of what you are feeling at the moment, write down everything that the doctor is telling you is not 'normal'.  This will help you at a later date.

Once you have written down your current experiences, write about events that happened and things you felt before your current experiences started.  Maybe you suffered a bereavement or were abused.  Maybe you have suffered from bullying or maybe nothing major happened.  Whatever it was, write about what happened, or what has not happened, and write about how you felt just before your current experiences started.  This will again help you at a later date.

With this document you have written about your experiences (or symptoms, whichever word you prefer), events that occurred before your experiences started and how you felt just before they started, you have now got the piece of information that will keep you well when you recover.  You will recover to some extent from the experiences you are currently going through and although it may take time, it will happen.  What you have written will show you what to look out for when you have recovered so that if you start having similar experiences again, you can get help quickly.  It is called by a few names, Relapse Prevention Signature, Early Warning Signs, Early Warning Relapse Prevention etc, whatever it's called, this document will prevent you from having a relapse.  The early warning signs are just that, an early warning that a relapse could be on its way.  They're handy as they give you the time to get help and prevent you from descending into a dark place again.

Now that you have kept yourself busy for a little while, start researching the diagnosis you have been given.  Learn the treatments that are best for your diagnosis, whether it is medication, talking therapy or both.  I always recommend talking therapy as that is what helped me.  Medication can help too so it can be worth trying.

A common thought on these sorts of diagnoses is 'Will I have to go into hospital?'  If you have read any of my blog before, you will have known that I have had two psychiatric hospital stays, one was eight weeks long, the other 17 months.  Those sorts of time lengths no doubt sound scary, especially the second one, but it is rare to stay in hospital for so long.  Hospitalisation is only usually necessary if you are a danger to yourself or others.  Sometimes a stay in hospital may be recommended to you and unless you are being assessed under the Mental Health Act, you always have the right to refuse.

Being placed on a section and forced to go into hospital can only happen if you are a danger to yourself or others.  Sometimes, if a person is refusing to take medication, the rules around sections can be bent.  It shouldn't happen but realistically, it does so be wary of this.  It can help to be med-compliant from the beginning anyway as this will increase your psychiatrist's trust.  It can be patronising to have to get someone to trust you but once you have their trust, don't do anything to damage this trust.

Another common thought around these diagnoses is 'Does this make me a bad/evil person?'  Psychosis or schizophrenia does NOT make you a bad or evil person.  It does NOT mean you are violent.  It does not mean the things that many people believe it does.  Often, people will think that the word 'psychotic' means evil.  In the media, psychotic is often used to describe a murderer.  They are wrong.  A better word to describe psychotic would be confused or scared.  Schizophrenia is the same.  It is a confusing and scary period when first diagnosed with one of these but you can recover.

Which leads onto another common thought, 'Will I recover fully?'  The honest answer is, I don't know.  However, the more honest you are with your psychiatrists, therapists and other '[posh word]ists' the better chance you have of a full recovery.  You could be scared of being honest with these professionals, but if you hold things back from them, they can't help you properly.  I can't emphasise enough that honesty with professionals is crucial.  Whatever you think is awful and you couldn't possibly tell anyone, I can guarantee that the professionals will have heard it all before.  Unless they have only just started working in this sort of job that is.  Those who have worked in psychiatry for a few years will have heard the worst symptoms imaginable.  They won't be shocked by anything.

Recovery in psychosis and schizophrenia varies from person to person.  Medication can be helpful in one person but unhelpful in another person.  Talking therapy might be extremely useful to one but useless to another.  You need to find what helps you as an individual and stick with it.  It could take a while to find what helps but never give up.  People with schizophrenia and psychosis can live and work in a normal way once they have recovered and everyone has a chance of recovery.  The best way to get the right recovery is to find what helps you and stick with it like I mentioned earlier and again, be completely honest with the professionals!  Don't be shy, scared or embarrassed when talking to them.  They will have heard it all before.  It's like feeling embarrassed at having to strip off at the doctors - they've seen it all before and will completely forget you once you have left.  It' the same with psychiatrists!

Two examples of high functioning schizophrenia sufferers are Keris Myrick and Elyn Saks.  An interesting article about Keris Myrick can be found here and an interesting article about Elyn Saks can be found here.  I would recommend researching about these inspirational women more!

Schizophrenia and Psychosis isn't a life sentence.  All you need is the right support.  If you have any further questions or concerns, please leave a comment here so I can do my best to answer it for you!

Stay strong!


  1. Katy,

    You offer some very helpful, encouraging, and practical advice. The symptoms and the eventual diagnosis of schizophrenia can be scary. Your post is an excellent source for helping alleviate that fear and offers excellent step by step suggestions on what one can do to get in the path of recovery. Well Done!

    The biggest mistake one could make once experiencing symptoms would be to just try and ignore or deny them. Once symptoms occur, the earlier that ones schizophrenia is diagnosed and treated the better their overall outcome can be.

  2. I completely agree. When I was 18, I told a psychiatrist about weird things that had just started happening, things that would eventually be diagnosed as schizophrenia. However, he told me that essentially, there was nothing wrong with me and it was another two years before anyone took them seriously. By then, I no longer believed that these things were weird and I believed that they were normal. It took a few more years before I realised they were symptoms of mental illness.

    I am angry at being ignored as had I had help straight away, my prognosis could have been much better. However, I can't spend my time looking back at my life and wishing that it could have been different!

  3. Great post thanks. I would add taking certain vitamins and supplements to the list. Even Reuters is now reporting on this. Taking vitamins is more important for people with schizophrenia because we are more likely to have deficiency and/or genes that mean our bodies can't process as much of the nutrients as our brains need. Taking SBX or the individual ingredients in it (if you can't get hold of SBX) and Omega 3 are the most important.

  4. Thanks for writing this, particularly the parts about believing you're evil and the diagnosis merely giving your behaviours a label (rather than changing who you are). For ages I worried (even without a diagnosis) that I'm a "danger" to society. I was scared of going to the doctor because I thought they'd "lock me up". Things are much better now. I don't know about "full recovery" (whatever that means--- "recovery" suggests returning to a previous state, but there's actually no previous state in my life I want to go back to!!). So I'm just aiming on being functional, calm, kind & patient with myself and others (rather than thinking of "recovery"). Breath easy :)

    1. Hi,

      I believed I was dangerous for a long time before realising I was wrong, glad you now know this too! This illness does NOT make you a danger to society! It is just an illness, and makes you no more dangerous to society than if you didn't have it!

      I'm glad things are better for you now, 'recovery' just means being at a place you feel good at, whatever that means for you! Recovery, symptoms, treatment, they're all unique to us all, so find what works for you and stick to it! Being functional, calm, kind and patient with yourself and others is a brilliant thing to set your mind too, particularly being patient with yourself. You may find you struggle with things more than you used to, but if you do, don't get frustrated with yourself. Remember, you have an illness that needs recuperation, and you can't be expected to live exactly as you did before it straight away!

      Thanks for contacting me, and I'm glad you're in a good place right now :)

      Katy x

  5. i hear voices telling me to do bad things and see people following me , these voices tell me I should kill these people if I want them to stop following me. I think its the government that's got something to do with all of this ,I think they know I see aliens and the government think I know too much and they want to silence me but they don't know the best way to do it it must look like a accident.what should I do can anybody give me any ideas

  6. Diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic since 1999, seems like you mean well enough but nothing on your blog helps me. I can only offer some possibly unwelcome criticsm: you come off as overly attention seeking.

  7. These are great tips, that I think could be used for after receiving a lot of mental illness diagnosis. It's great that you are reaching out to others and helping them.

  8. Thank you for being a voice and not the noise.