Women and Psychosis: A Guide for Women and Their Families
How will my illness affect my family?
The first weeks
This is a difficult period for the family. A family member may have had to bring you to hospital against your will because
he or she was afraid for your safety. The psychosis may have been as frightening for the family member as for you. It is very
common for families to feel unsettled and distressed at this time. These feelings may last for the first weeks, and sometimes
months, after the illness begins.
For many women, the start of psychosis is not a short-term crisis that will resolve itself and go away. Rather, many women
and their families must come to terms with having longer-term problems. This does not mean giving up. It means acknowledging
that, through no fault of your own, you have a serious medical problem that you will need to attend to. Coming to terms with
psychosis does not come easily or quickly. It is painful for all involved.
Families often act overprotective and want to shield you from further pain. They badly want to make the psychosis disappear.
At times, it can feel like they are taking over and deciding everything for you. This often stirs up negative feelings. It
can be especially hard if you are used to living independently.
Working with family members on how to manage the illness is very challenging. It often takes a lot of time and negotiation
for family members to find the right balance between being protective and respecting independence. Speak with your doctor
and other health care providers about how to sort out independence issues with your family.
How will my illness affect my friends?
Friends are often very loyal, but you may be embarrassed at what you may have said to them while ill and may feel like isolating
yourself. Try as much as possible to renew friendships and not let illness affect your relationships. Some friends will be
more understanding than others. Some friends may drift away. On the other hand, you may make new friends with people who have
experienced and overcome similar difficulties.
You might feel shy about contacting your friends if you haven’t seen them for a while. You may be afraid they'll reject you
if they're aware that you've been ill. It’s up to you to decide whether or not to tell your friends that you've been ill and
are being treated. There are no set rules about what to disclose and what to keep to yourself. If you decide to talk to friends
about your illness, begin with someone you trust who is likely to react well.
You may benefit from talking about the following questions with a counsellor:
- Who would you like to tell about your illness?
- How much do you want to tell your friends?
- How are they likely to react?
- How will you feel then?
Feeling pressure to conform
After a psychotic episode, you may feel that you have changed and have little in common with your friends. And, to an extent,
this may be true: you have had an experience that your friends likely have not had. Feeling different may also come from changing
parts of your past lifestyle. For example, if you no longer use street drugs or drink even moderately, you may feel pressured
to join your friends in these activities. This may be tempting if you want to fit in and feel “normal.” Also, because they
are unlikely to know much about the illness or medication, friends might urge you to stop taking your pills - especially if
they know that you are having unpleasant side-effects. This would be bad advice. Always discuss any medication concerns with
your doctor or counsellor.