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Women & Psychosis: A Guide for Women and Their Families Centre for Addiction
and Mental Health

5. Family concerns

Women and Psychosis: A Guide for Women and Their Families

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Nothing can prepare families for watching a child, spouse or parent experience psychosis. Most families worry about whether the illness will come back. Even after the psychosis is under control, problems can remain. A person may have trouble remembering, concentrating, organizing or feeling motivated. These signs remind the family that the future is uncertain —more serious problems could still occur.

Family members may experience many strong emotions. These include anxiety, anger, denial, sadness and guilt. Feelings toward the person with the psychosis may be mixed. Becoming overly anxious and overprotective is also a risk. Family members may feel deeply disappointed that the life they wanted for their loved one has been seriously altered. All these emotions cause stress.

It’s important to realize that, even when people in the same family are dealing with the same crisis, their personal reactions and the ways that they cope are often quite different.


Even without an illness to deal with, families can have trouble communicating. Families dealing with psychosis can easily find communication frustrating and strained. Kim Mueser and Susan Gingerich (1994) suggest excellent ways to help families communicate after psychosis begins. These include the following:

  • Get to the point. Be clear about what you want to say.
  • Express your feelings directly. Use “I” statements. For example, you could say, “I get angry when you do this.” - rather than “Don't do this!”
  • Use praise rather than criticism. For example, you could say, “You got up half an hour earlier today than yesterday. That’s wonderful.” - rather than “You're always getting up late.”
  • Make positive and explicit requests. For example, you could say, “Please go to the store before 10 o'clock and buy a quart of milk.” - rather than “We need milk.”
  • Check what the other person thinks. Rather than guessing what your relative is thinking or feeling, listen carefully to what the person says. Ask questions when something is unclear. Check whether you correctly understood what you heard.

Working together

You and your family must face some key tasks. These include:

  • Find a way to accept that you have had an episode of psychosis and are therefore vulnerable to more episodes.
  • Come to terms with the fact that you will likely need medications for at least several years.
  • Become better able to manage the psychosis. This involves learning everything that you can about your illness and how to stay well. Using this information will help you make healthy choices. This, in turn, will help you control your illness. well. Using this information will help you make healthy choices. This, in turn, will help you control your illness.

Once the psychosis is stabilized, you and your family members will need to work hard to restore balance to your lives. It will help to set some short-, medium- and long-term goals for yourselves.

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