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Overcoming The Stigma Of Substance-Induced Psychosis

By: Kat E

If you told me 3 years ago that I would be riding the wave of cannabis induced psychosis with my teenage son J, I would look at you with complete bewilderment. Even though I’ve worked in the mental health & addiction field for years, I wasn’t prepared for what was to come — an uncharted journey through the confusing world of strange experiences and distorted reality – an Alice in Wonderland fantasy trip. At the time, I had very little training let alone understanding of psychosis. It wasn’t on my radar until it literally hit home which is surprising given 3 out of every 100 people will experience at least one psychotic episode in their lifetime (most starting in their late teens to mid-twenties).

But here we are- a month into J’s release from a 10-day involuntary hospital stay at the adolescent stabilization unit in our region with no discharge plan in place as promised by the hospital’s multi-disciplinary team to support our son’s recovery.. As J’s parents, we found ourselves left once again to figure things out on our own and try to navigate the system with its paltry resources for trauma and psychosis.

Even after being discharged from the hospital (in my opinion too quickly), it was clear that J was still coming undone and out of touch with reality despite the supervised medical attention and medication regime put in place. We discovered from our son’s psychiatrist after his discharge that J was given a toxic dosage of anti-psychotics while in the hospital to treat his condition. I say condition because psychosis (regardless of type) is a symptom of an illness and not an identity. 

When I broke the news to those close to us that J had to be hospitalized because of increasing paranoia, delusions, and disorganized thinking, I was devastated to hear one person bluntly ask me, "Does he have a conscience?". I was stunned by the question because of the stigma so evident in it.  I took the opportunity to remind her that psychosis can be triggered by a mental illness, a physical injury, substance use, extreme stress or trauma. It can even be caused by some medications. So, it could happen to any one of us. Psychosis is NOT a crime. And it certainly doesn’t make someone a psychopath.

What is the take-away in all this? With Alice in Wonderland, the young girl asks the Cheshire Cat: "Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?" "That depends a good deal on where you want to get to," said the Cat. As a mother who knows where she wants her son to go — on the road to healing, happiness and hope, there is a wise lesson to be learned and remembered from this story. Know where you’re going… even if sometimes you need to fall down a rabbit hole to get to where you need to be. After all, treatment for addiction and other forms of mental illness is rarely straightforward. This is where family and community support, time and commitment are all vital ingredients for a sustainable recovery. My job as a mother is to consistently show my son that he is not alone. As a family, we are in this together regardless of what other people think or say. We shall overcome. 

*Excellent Podcast Resource: https://parallelrealities.buzzsprout.com/


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