Identify psychosis early – Open the door to tomorrow

Mental health is becoming more and more of a hot topic these days, which, from a health perspective, is a great thing. Let’s face it, it’s not an easy topic to discuss, but the stigma associated with it is a big barrier for individuals and families to get the help they need.

Well, this week is Mental Health Awareness Week (May 7-13), and a great opportunity for us to talk about mental illness, help reduce the stigma, and hopefully get the word out that help is available in Halton.

So, let’s talk about psychosis because 3 out of 100 people will experience psychosis in their lifetime, and it can happen to anyone regardless of intelligence, race or religious background.  It is a serious but treatable medical condition that occurs when there are changes in the brain that impact a person’s ability to determine what’s real and what’s not. The reason this is important for parents in particular is because the first time these changes usually happen is during the teen to early adulthood years.

Symptoms can include:

  • hallucinations (hearing, seeing, feeling, smelling or tasting something that is not really there)
  • delusions (false beliefs), disorganization of thoughts
  • social withdrawal
  • decreased energy, loss of motivation or pleasure in activities
  • lack of ability to maintain focus & attention
  • anger, irritability, low mood or mood swings

As one client from Halton’s Phoenix Program  put it, “I thought my situation was drug induced. I thought I was using “bad” drugs that were messing with my head. I also thought my hallucinations and delusions were quite real.  After I agreed to, and was put on medication for a few months I started to look back at what I had been thinking and I realized that it made no real sense.”

Why it can happen:

  • Psychosis happens due to changes in certain brain chemicals called neurotransmitters.
  • We do know that the chances of someone developing psychosis is higher if they have a family member with psychosis, compared to those who do not.
  • Drugs like marijuana have been linked as a trigger.

Just remember that no one thing has been identified as a cause, but is important to know that psychosis is not a result of bad parenting or because an individual is “weak”, “lazy” or “stupid”.

What can you do if you think your child may have signs of psychosis:

  • Talk to your child. Conversation starters like “how have things been for you lately?”, “I can see that things have been hard for you lately…” or “help me understand how things have been for you” could be great way to start.
  • Talk to your family doctor. They can provide treatment or will refer to a specialist for further assessment and treatment.
  • Help your child to manage their life stress. Parents don’t always recognize the stress that their children are facing.

The Phoenix Program is a community service that specializes in early identification and treatment of psychosis. There are 3 clinical sites in Halton that include the North Halton Mental Health Clinic in Milton, Halton Healthcare in Oakville, and Joseph Brant Memorial Hospital in Burlington. Each team consists of a nurse, a family specialist, a psychiatrist, a peer support worker, an occupational therapist and an addiction clinician.

If psychosis is left untreated, studies show that there is a greater disruption to the person’s life. If detected early, many problems can be prevented and can greatly increase the chance of a successful recovery.

For more tips and hints about mental health, or to share your experience, there are many ways you can talk to one of us directly:

  • Leave us a comment below – we’d love your feedback
  • Talk to us on Twitter: @haltonparents
  • Email us at haltonparents@halton.ca
  • Dial 311 or 905-825-6000 for parenting information or to speak directly to a  Public Health Nurse every Monday to Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

About these guest bloggers:

Milinda Alexander is the Coordinator of the Phoenix Program, Early Intervention Service. She works and travels between the 3 clinical sites (Milton, Oakville and Burlington) and links with other early intervention programs throughoutOntario.

Tony DiGiacomo is a mental health clinician/family specialist with the Phoenix Program at the North Halton Mental Health Clinic, serving Milton, Georgetown and Acton in Halton Region.  Tony provides education and support to the families, caregivers and loved ones of youth and young adults experiencing a first episode of psychosis.

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