How to support a loved one with schizophrenia

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Helping a loved one deal with a mental illness can be difficult. There’s a need to offer support without overstepping and difficulties in understanding what they’re going through. A severe mental health condition like schizophrenia can exacerbate those feelings.

Schizophrenia is still one of the most stigmatized mental health conditions. Here’s what you can do to be supportive of someone you care about who is diagnosed with schizophrenia.

Educate Yourself

The first step in becoming a support person is educating yourself about schizophrenia beyond what you’ve seen in Hollywood.

Schizophrenia is a mental health condition that typically shows up during early adulthood, though teenagers may start to exhibit symptoms years prior. For reasons unknown, schizophrenia is more prevalent in males than females and typically shows up later in the female population.

Types of Schizophrenia

There are three types of schizophrenia: positive, negative, and cognitive. In cases of positive schizophrenia, the person affected has more active symptoms, like delusions and auditory hallucinations. It’s this type of schizophrenia that most people associate with the condition based on portrayals in the media.

Someone with negative schizophrenia experiences more passive symptoms, including a lack of emotion or desire for social connection. They might also experience challenges speaking or accomplishing tasks.

Finally, someone experiencing cognitive schizophrenia may struggle to concentrate and experience memory issues. They also experience a lack of personal insight and awareness, making it challenging to take care of themselves or even remember that they have a condition.

While there’s no cure, Schizophrenia Treatment can help manage the condition and help the affected individual lead a fairly normal life. Treatment typically includes a combination of medication, psychiatric intervention, and long-term skills development and planning.

Practice Active Listening

One of the simplest yet most effective ways to offer support to someone diagnosed with schizophrenia is to practice active listening. In other words, listening to hear and understand rather than listening to respond. Being receptive to your loved ones as they talk about their fears and challenges can be tremendously helpful.

As humans, we’re designed to want to respond and offer comfort. Sometimes, we unknowingly engage in toxic positivity. Rather than saying “at least this is ok” or “you’re lucky because,” try to meet the person where they are. It’s normal for someone to feel resentful or have periods of hopelessness when experiencing a mental health condition. Instead of trying to cheer them up or offer solutions, validate their emotions.

Acknowledge and Ask Questions

When faced with such a serious mental condition, some people don’t know what to say. This confusion often leads to avoidance or pretending that nothing is wrong. This behavior is also common when someone has a visual disability or disorder— we look away or pretend not to notice. As such, the human being experiencing the disorder feels ignored or unseen.

Instead, acknowledge that this diagnosis is real and ask questions about it. It’s natural to be curious, and the individual will likely want an opportunity to discuss what they’re going through with someone who cares.

Offer Actionable Help

Humans are great at offering help in a passive way— i.e., saying, “let me know if you need help with anything.” The problem with this approach to offering help is that it puts the burden of asking on the affected individual.

Instead, be specific and actionable when offering help. For example, if you notice they’re low on food, mention that you’re heading to the grocery store and ask what you can grab for them. If you notice the laundry situation is getting out of control, offer to throw in a load for them.

Depending on the person’s frame of mind, they might not accept your help. If that occurs, don’t push them on it— move on and ask again in the future.

Stay Connected

As there’s still so much stigma around schizophrenia, the person may find themselves socially isolated after their diagnosis. Checking in regularly and keeping a strong emotional connection can be incredibly helpful during this difficult time.

Be willing to take on the burden of being the one to reach out. While relationships are typically two-way streets, someone with schizophrenia might not be able to connect in the same way. Checking in to see how the person is feeling or if they want to do something with you will remind them that there’s someone in their corner.

Create a Safe Space

If your loved one is staying with you or visiting, it’s important to create a safe space for them. Ensure medication is monitored and locked up, working with a healthcare professional to avoid negative interactions. As many people with schizophrenia are more likely to develop a substance abuse disorder, it’s also worth creating an alcohol-free household.

It’s also important to ensure the home is safe for everyone else. Sometimes someone with schizophrenia will require extra monitoring and care. If the individual is resistant to care or has periods of hostility, it’s worth exploring alternative arrangements.

Know the Signs of a Crisis

Reporting someone you care about can be challenging. As a support person for someone with schizophrenia, knowing the signs of a crisis is a must to keep everyone safe. If you’re in a primary caregiver role, include the individual in creating an emergency response plan. This exercise will give them ownership over their medical care and empower them to share their thoughts and feelings about a potential crisis.

Some initial signs of an oncoming schizophrenia crisis or relapse include behavior changes, sleep changes, paranoia, and withdrawal. If you notice these signs, reach out to their professional support team.

Should you find yourself in the middle of a crisis, remember to stay calm and collected. Avoid telling the person that what they’re seeing or hearing isn’t real— it’s quite real to them. Avoid prolonged eye contact or physical touch, maintain a consistent tone and avoid angry outbursts. Remember that you can’t reason with someone experiencing psychosis; you can just try and keep the situation calm and safe while calling the support team.

Practice Self-Care

Whether you’re a primary caregiver or a close friend to a person with schizophrenia, it’s important to practice self-care as well. Watching someone you care about go through something so difficult can be emotional. Your relationship may change, and they might say and do things that hurt your feelings. While you may understand that the situation isn’t within their control, it can still hurt.

Remember that you can’t pour from an empty cup and ask for help when you need it.

Knowledge, compassion, and planning are essential to supporting a loved one with schizophrenia. Remember that this situation is out of their control, but with proper care and treatment— and your support— they can live a fairly normal life.

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