Hi everyone, been a while since I posted a “How to” update about psychosis. The idea for this one came to me from a reader who contacted me who has a relative with schizophrenia and had problems approaching them when they were delusional. I would first like to clear up what I think are a few misconceptions about what a psychotic person is like, then I will get into my tips of how to approach them.
So, what exactly makes a person “psychotic”? It is when they are actively experiencing symptoms of psychosis. This is including, but not limited to, hallucinating, being delusional, or having disconnected thoughts and speech patterns. If you are familiar with what these are, you should be able to very quickly tell if a person is psychotic. For example, if someone says, “The voices are so mean to me today. I wish they’d be quiet.” then they’re probably hallucinating. If someone says, “The government wants me dead. They put up cameras in my house and are watching my every move.” then they’re definitely delusional. If someone is talking and their speech patterns make no sense whatsoever, chances are their thinking is pretty disconnected due to psychosis. “Psychotic” is NOT a synonym for “dangerous” or “deadly”. A large majority of the time, a psychotic person is much more of a risk to themselves than to anyone else. So just because a person is experiencing psychosis doesn’t mean they want to kill someone (it rarely does). There are certain delusions where a person can become dangerous to others, but on the whole, those kinds of delusions are fairly infrequent. Unless the psychotic person specifically expresses a desire to harm others, there’s really no reason to fear them.
One note I’d like to make about delusions; something I read in a book. In the most strongly delusional person, it may be impossible to get them to believe their delusions aren’t true. This is not to say you should instantly give up on trying to help delusional people; it’s just saying that in some cases, there is not much you can do.
Onto the tips of how to talk to a psychotic person:
1) If they’re hallucinating. It’s first best to recognize how the hallucinations are making them feel. Hallucinations are typically very scary. If someone says, “The voices are scaring me”, tell them, “I’m sorry you feel scared, how can I help?” Don’t make them feel like their feelings are invalid. Next, this is the part why you try to tell them that their hallucination isn’t really there. This is not easy to do. Don’t straight up say “They’re not real. Get over it.” because that will not do anything to benefit the psychotic person. Approach them gently. Say something like, “I understand you are hearing voices right now, and I know it must be scary. However, I personally don’t hear anything.You are most likely hallucinating right now.” This approach should be good for any hallucination. Like for me, I usually have visual hallucinations that I call demons. So I’d say something like “I see demons right now, I feel like they want to kill me.” and my boyfriend says something like “Remember, you have schizophrenia. What you’re seeing right now is a hallucination. Don’t worry dude, there’s nothing here that will hurt you.” and usually after talking about it a little bit, I recognize that they’re hallucinations and get through it. The best way to talk someone through a hallucination is to be understanding of how they’re feeling, and gentle when you tell them what they’re experiencing isn’t real.
2) If they’re delusional. Use logic. Be direct and firm, but not harsh. I already gave one example of how to talk to a delusional person in a previous post, so I’ll use a different example here. Let’s say the delusional person tells you, “I refuse to use my laptop because it is wired to read my thoughts and broadcast them to other people.” Tell them something like, “Here’s the thing. Technology only has the ability to do what a person tells it to; it can’t act on its own.Your laptop, it can only do an action after you input something that tells it to do the action. It is limited to doing what a person tells it to do; it can’t do anything else.” Notice that in the answer, there’s no straightforward “you’re wrong”. It’s all logic based, and truthful. The answer does not skirt around the issue, it directly addresses the person’s fears. But it does not try and make them feel “crazy” or “stupid”; it merely suggests an alternative, more real way of thinking about the issue. That’s the important part: don’t make a delusional person feel bad about the way they are thinking. Instead, suggest different ways of viewing a situation that makes them think more in reality.
I personally don’t have much experience with the disconnected speech psychosis, so I don’t feel comfortable giving advice on how to deal with it. If anyone has any experience with this, feel free to reblog with advice or send me a message with the advice and I’ll post it in a separate blog post.
That’s all for this “How to”. If you have any additional advice, feel free to reblog or message me and I’ll do a follow-up post to this one with reader advice.