Experiences of psychosis

Support from family, friends and partners

Many people mentioned the importance of friends, family and partners for their well-being, though not all had supportive friends or family they could rely on. Supportive people could help them through hard times, including when they were ill. Other people could also support their recovery. This section describes how friends, family and partners supported them as adults - giving emotional support, financial help, a place to stay, and even help with personal care when they were unwell. A few people could stay with their family and so didn’t have to be admitted to hospital. However, several people had an unsupportive family, and some had experienced highly traumatic events within their family, including sexual or physical abuse by a close relative (see ‘View about causes and traumatic experiences’ and ‘Childhood and life before diagnosis’).
Giving and receiving support
Overall people’s relationships with family members were complex, yet often these relationships helped. For example, family members could speak on their behalf or reassure them when necessary. At other times people’s close relatives were the first people to notice that something wasn’t ‘quite right’. Tom said that his mum had thought he had an early stage of schizophrenia and suggested he should go to a day centre to get the care he needed. A mother we spoke to paid for her son’s flat for six months so he had a familiar place to return to after coming out of hospital.
People told us that their carers could go to extraordinary lengths to help. Tim's mother looked after him for over 30 years until her death. Two carers we spoke to talked about fighting to get things done, like access to services such as talking therapies, and to get the right physical care on a psychiatric ward.
People didn’t just need caring for. Some also had caring responsibilities. For example, people cared for children, elderly relatives and partners. Colin now helps to look after his elderly father, as well as his sister who has bipolar affective disorder.
Some people felt that having their family or partner care for them didn’t particularly help. For example, being cared for could bring back painful memories of childhood such as when a parent who had previously been uncaring or even abusive. Caring could also confuse the roles people had. When Janey’s husband stopped being involved in her psychiatric care, she felt relieved that he was her ‘husband’ and not involved in her medical care.
Relationships when people were unwell
Many people worried about the strain that their mental distress could put on their family. They talked about having became suspicious of family or friends whom they had previously trusted. In particular, upsetting events like suicide attempts could be difficult to work through and affected their relationships.
A few people said they had been violent to their family when they were very unwell. Peter had woken up in a night terror and saw a nightmarish vision, upon which he tried to strangle his wife.
Only very few people talked about being violent towards their family when they were unwell, and this was nearly always when they were drunk. Most people had felt very upset by violent thoughts or voices encouraging violence, saying they would never act on them.
Many people talked about the importance of family and friends to their well-being and recovery. People said that being with friends who drank too much or took too many drugs did not help. Friendships were also sometimes hard work, but the ‘right’ friendships could help with everyday life, and even help recovery. For example, Nada talked about her flatmates at university cooking for her when she first became unwell. They also recognised the signs of becoming distressed another time so that they could contact her family for help. Another spoke about friends who would still ring them, even when they couldn’t go out.
Many people had lost friends since becoming unwell, and some even preferred to have friends they had met in psychiatric services to other friends, as fellow patients knew more about their difficulties.
Others preferred more of a mix of friends, or people with whom they could talk about things like music, photography or football - in other words, topics not just to do with mental health.
Despite all the support outlined here, people also talked about bad reactions from friends, family and others when people realised that they had a psychiatric illness. For more on these reactions see ‘Reactions of others and stigma’.

Last reviewed July 2017.
Last updated April 2014.


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