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 Published: 28/11/2011



On this page you will find a couple of information sheets that have been created by the First Episode Psychosis team. One information sheet provides some information about mental illness and psychosis. The other sheet gives some advice and suggestions for family members.



What is Mental Illness?

All of us, at some points in our lives will experience some psychological and emotional problems. At times, the person may benefit from some professional help in dealing with these difficulties. “Mental illness” is one way of thinking about these difficulties which views these problems as an 'illness' that effects us psychologically and emotionally. One in five New Zealanders will experience a mental illness at some point in their lives. It is important to remember that each person’s experience of mental illness is different, and that different people may think of their experiences in different ways (that is, not everyone thinks of their problems in terms of ‘mental illness’).

What is Psychosis?

Psychosis is a word that is used to describe a collection of experiences that reflect a change in how the person thinks and/or feels about the world. In general terms these experiences usually reflect some change in the person’s views of reality. When a person is experiencing psychosis this is called a psychotic episode.

What are the Symptoms of Psychosis?

  1. Disturbances in thinking (also known as ‘thought disorder’)

  • Racing thoughts or slowed thoughts

  • Confused thinking/jumbled thoughts

  • Difficulties in communicating

  1. Unusual beliefs (usually not shared by others – sometimes referred 
    to as a ‘delusion’)

  • Sometimes people develop a belief in something that they would not normally believe

  • These beliefs may be held for unusual reasons

  • Sometimes these beliefs may be the person’s way of making sense of unusual experiences, such as hallucinations.

  1. Hallucinations

  • Hearing, smelling, tasting, seeing or feeling things that others do not experience (e.g. the person may hear voices speaking to them which no one else can hear)

In addition to the above, the person may have changed feelings and/or changes in behaviour.

What is First-Episode Psychosis?

First-episode psychosis refers to the first time someone experiences psychotic symptoms or a psychotic episode (of course, this does not mean that the person will necessarily have a second episode later). The symptoms can be highly disturbing and completely unfamiliar, and may be both confusing and distressing. 

What Causes Psychosis?

A range of factors are associated with the onset of psychosis. No single cause has been identified. Stressful experiences, substance use (including street drugs such as cannabis) and family history of mental illness are believed to contribute to the onset of psychosis. Street drugs can also increase the likelihood of a relapse of psychosis and so delay recovery. Psychosis can also be associated with conditions such as ‘schizophrenia’ and ‘manic depression’, and with certain medical conditions.

These information sheets were produced by:

St. Lukes First-Episode Psychosis Team
615 New North Road
Morningside Auckland
Phone 09 845 0940

Please feel free to ask any team member if you have further questions about psychosis.



“The lives of people with serious mental illness are inextricably involved with the lives of those they love and care for, and the lives of those who love and care about them...and who need, therefore, to be part of a healing and maintenance programme”
Blueprint for Mental Health Service in New Zealand

There are approximately 65,000 people using Mental Health Services in New Zealand, and these people are never ill in isolation. Their families are almost always involved. It can be very distressing to realise that someone close to you is experiencing psychosis. This information leaflet has been put together by the St Lukes First Episode Psychosis (FEP) team to provide some information to families and carers of clients of our service.

At St Lukes, the FEP team runs a Family Support Group which is one option for families and carers to receive help and support. The group meets monthly, with the aim being to assist families, partners and friends of clients to understand what is happening and to find out how to be involved in the assessment, treatment and recovery process. In addition to this group, members of the FEP team, Manawanui (Maori Mental Health Services) and Lotofale (Pacific Island Mental Health Services) are available to offer support to families. Interpreters are also available.

How can I help during the treatment?

  • Think of yourself and the staff as having the same goal: to help the person with psychosis work towards recovery. We like to think of our work as being based on a partnership between the client, his or her family/carers and the treating team.

  • Ask for regular meetings with the key people in the team and prepare a list of questions to take with you. Feel free to write the answers down at the meeting.

  • If you don’t understand what is being discussed, say so, and ask for a clearer explanation. Ask where you can obtain additional information, for example, are there specific educational sessions available?

Managing Distress

Sometimes the experience of mental illness can divide a family, just at the time when mutual support is vital. It is very important that everyone understands and agrees on a common approach, so that options can be discussed and responsibility shared. It helps for everyone to understand mental illness and its effects as early as possible. No one is to blame. It could be helpful to request increased support during the period of illness, as there will be extra pressure on the family

Some guidelines for the carer(s):

  1. Learn as much as possible, as soon as possible, about psychosis.

  2. Contact a Self-Help Group for families affected by psychosis.

  3. Get to know the stressors that could have contributed to the person becoming unwell.

  4. Be aware of the needs of other family members.

  5. Maintain and establish friendships, activities and hobbies, particularly those that take you outside the home.

  6. Take good care of yourself. 

  7. Take time out to manage the family's distress and anxiety.

  8. Provide reassurance; you can do this by defining what is real for you.

  9. Encourage family members to utilise simple relaxation procedures during periods of high anxiety. Try to keep conflict at a minimum.

  10. Contact staff to discuss alternative strategies and medication options, or where you have any questions or concerns.

REMEMBER TO: Go slow, Keep cool, Give'em space, Set limits, Reduce expectations, Keep it simple.

Some key organisations you may wish to contact for further information are:

SFNZ – Supporting Families in Mental illness; web site: 

Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand. Website: or you can contact them at Tel: 09 300 7010.   Fax: 09 300 7020.  PO Box 10051, Dominion Road, Auckland. Physical address: 81 New North Rd, Eden Terrace, Auckland.



These information sheets were produced by:

St. Lukes First-Episode Psychosis Team
615 New North Road
Morningside Auckland
Phone 09 845 0940

Please feel free to ask any team member if you have further questions about psychosis.