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How online educational approaches can support the families of people with psychosis

Dr Juliana Onwumere is lead educator on the free online course, “Caring for People with Psychosis and Schizophrenia.” Here she discusses how online educational approaches, designed for the family and friends of people with psychotic disorders, can have an important role to play in improving outcomes.

Fear, stigma and confusion means that people with psychosis often rely on close others, such as parents, a partner or siblings.
Fear, stigma and confusion means that people with psychosis often rely on close others, such as parents, a partner or siblings.

When a person first develops a psychotic disorder such as schizophrenia, their social networks and friendships are adversely affected. Social networks plummet and the social world of the person with psychosis can become very small, comprising only a handful of close others, such as parents, a partner or siblings.

Several factors can contribute to this, including fear, stigma, and the sheer confusion of others, about how best to understand and respond to confusing and distressing illness experiences, such as hallucinations and delusions.

Supporting the families of individuals with psychosis

In recognition of the many difficulties faced by families, treatment guidelines in different countries across the globe, including the UK and USA, recommend offering educational support to the families of individuals with psychosis. These educational interventions are designed to promote a better understanding of the illness, as well as the use of helpful strategies, which can improve coping, and reduce the negative impact a psychotic illness can have on families and friendships.

But meeting these recommendations is a challenge, particularly at times when services and organisations have reduced resources, and when families themselves may have little time available in their day-to-day lives, as they deal with parallel challenges, such as working and caring for other family members.

Digital innovations have overlooked families

In recent months and years, digital innovations in mental health – including the provision of online therapy and the development of phone apps to monitor moods – have increased in popularity. However, it would be fair to argue that digital developments seem to have overlooked the information needs of families of people with psychosis. Families can still find themselves writing into newspapers for advice.

Overlooking families seems unfortunate, given recently released evidence from a survey of families of people with severe mental health problems in 22 countries. This highlighted that 90% want opportunities to share knowledge about the illness with other families.

New online educational interventions can help

Online educational interventions – like “Caring for People with Psychosis and Schizophrenia” – have the potential to offer cost- and time-effective approaches to sharing relevant information and new developments with large numbers of families on a global stage, and supporting their learning and knowledge acquisition together, as a group.

Over 21 million people worldwide are living with a diagnosis of schizophrenia. Having the support of families and friends can improve outcomes and help with recovery. However, family and friends have support needs too.

Supporting families with their understanding of the illness can positively impact on their wellbeing and the outcomes of the relatives they care for.

If you care for someone with a psychotic disorder such as schizophrenia, the free online course “Caring for People with Psychosis and Schizophrenia” will provide opportunities to share your views and experiences with carers from around the world. You can join the course now or join the conversation using #FLpsychosis.

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