What if they believe things that seem very unusual or scary to me?
If someone is experiencing reality in a very different way from people around them, they may not realise or agree that seeking help could be useful for them. They may be experiencing psychosis, mania, hearing voices or feeling very paranoid. In this case, it can also be helpful to:
- Focus on how their beliefs are making them feel (for example anxious, scared, threatened or confused), as these feelings will be very real.
- Avoid confirming or denying their beliefs. Instead it can help to say something like "I understand that you see things that way, but it's not like that for me."
There are a lot of misunderstandings about what it means to experience psychosis. Lots of people wrongly think that the word 'psychotic' means 'dangerous'. But it's important to remember that in reality, very few people who experience psychosis ever hurt anyone else. (See our page on stigma and misconceptions for more information.)
What can I do if it's an emergency?
There may be times when your friend or family member needs to seek help more urgently, such as if they:
- have harmed themselves and need medical attention
- are having suicidal feelings, and feel they may act on them
- are putting themselves or someone else at immediate, serious risk of harm.
In this case:
- If they are not safe by themselves right now – as long as you feel able to do so, you should stay with them and help them call 999 for an ambulance, or help them get to A&E. They may appreciate it if you can wait with them until they can see a doctor.
- If they can keep themselves safe for a little while – you can get quick medical advice by calling NHS Direct on 111 (England) or 0845 46 47 (Wales), or you could help them make an emergency GP appointment to see a doctor soon. You can encourage them to call the Samaritans on 116 123 at any time of night or day to talk to someone, or try other telephone support services. It may also be helpful to remove things that they could use to harm themselves, particularly if they have mentioned specific things they might use. (See our pages on supporting someone who feels suicidal for more information.)
- If you feel personally in danger right now, or that others are in immediate danger – you can dial 999 and ask for the police to help. You might feel worried about getting someone in trouble, but it's important to put your own safety first.
If you're not in a situation like this right now, but you're worried someone you care about may experience a mental health crisis in the future, it's a good idea to make a crisis plan with them to work out what steps you will take to help them in an emergency. (See our page on planning for a crisis for more information.)
How does someone get sectioned?
In exceptional circumstances it's possible to keep a person in hospital under a section of the Mental Health Act (often called being sectioned), and treat them without their agreement. The decision to section someone is very serious, and can only be taken by a team of approved mental health professionals (AMHPs).
If you feel someone is at serious, immediate risk and will not approach anyone for help, you can contact their local social services, who can decide to arrange an assessment (you can usually find the number for social services on the local council's website).
This is a heavy responsibility, so before taking action it’s important that you understand what might happen, and what your loved one's rights are. It might also be a good idea to talk this through with someone you trust.
(See our legal pages on sectioning and agreeing to treatment for more information).
How can I look after myself?
Supporting someone else can be challenging. Making sure that you look after your own wellbeing can mean that you have the energy, time and distance to help someone else. For example:
- Take a break when you need it. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by supporting someone or it’s taking up a lot of time or energy, taking some time for yourself can help you feel refreshed.
- Talk to someone you trust about how you’re feeling. You may want to be careful about how much information you share about the person you’re supporting, but talking about your own feelings to a friend can help you feel supported too.
- Set boundaries and be realistic about what you can do. Your support is really valuable, but it’s up to your friend or family member to seek support for themselves. Remember that small, simple things can help, and that just being there for them is probably helping a lot.
- Share your caring role with others, if you can. It's often easier to support someone if you're not doing it alone.
For more ideas about how to keep yourself well, see our pages on coping when supporting someone else, improving and maintaining your wellbeing, and managing stress.
This information was published in December 2017 – to be revised in 2020. References are available on request. If you would like to reproduce any of this information see our page on permissions and licensing.