Early Psychosis: Learning to Recognize Psychosis Early On and What to Do About It

For schizophrenia, symptoms like psychosis can often start in the mid-to-late teen years. Sometimes no one realizes that the person is having psychosis, which means they don’t get treatment as quickly.

For several years now, one focus in schizophrenia research and treatment has been identifying and treating people with psychosis (and possibly schizophrenia) early on in the course of their illness. It is thought that, in general, the earlier a person gets treatment, the better they will do overall. (JAMA. 2013;310(7):689-690. doi:10.1001/jama.2013.8804)

There are a lot of signs that sometimes point to someone starting to have psychosis, including sudden drop in school or work performance, trouble concentrating, not trusting others all of a sudden, not taking care of appearance or hygiene like they used to, having strong, inappropriate emotions or no emotions at all, and spending way more time alone than is typical for the person. However, these signs can also just be signs of typical teen/young adult behavior, or signs of other issues (other mental illness, drug and alcohol abuse), so it’s critical to get the opinion of a professional, preferably a mental health professional with some experience with people with psychosis.

Recently, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), a nationwide non-profit organization, posted a thorough article on how to identify psychosis early on, what it is, what you can do, helping people with psychosis get the help they need, and working with school staff to work with the person with early psychosis. They include how to recognize early signs of psychosis, different treatments, therapies, resources, and support programs for people with the psychosis and for their families.

Sometimes, a person who’s beginning to have psychosis may not understand that they have psychosis, or may not want to get help. Here is a helpful tip sheet posted in the NAMI article above that addresses ways to engage a person in treatment and things to avoid.

For information about your local NAMI chapter, look on their national webpage for a search window based on what state you live in (halfway down the page, on the left), or call their national hotline at 800-950-6264.

Here in Minnesota, there is a Youth Psychosis program at the University of Minnesota, which provides consultation with psychiatrists about medications, therapy, school consultations, and education with the family of the person with psychosis. For questions or to set up an appointment, call 612.273.8710.

The group I run, called Living with Schizophrenia, can accept people new to the disorder as well, but the focus is not specifically on early psychosis, but rather on skills and support for people at any stage of the illness. However, I do have a packet of information about schizophrenia and related illnesses as well as about how to access available resources in the Twin Cities. Contact me for a copy of the packet if you’d like one.