Reviewed by Whitney White, MS CMHC, NCC., LPC
You may have noticed someone close to you exhibiting strange behavior. Maybe they seem to think that they are being hunted without anyone in sight or started to talk about a complicated belief system that seems completely incomprehensible. The chances are that this person is experiencing a form of mental health disorder called schizophrenia.
Schizophrenia is a complex mental health condition that makes it hard for someone to differentiate between reality and false appearances or perceptions. The symptoms can be severe and disruptive that completing routine activities may be challenging or impossible. Schizophrenia can be terrifying and confusing for the person and their family. It is a hard condition to manage, and many people do not understand many things about it.
People with schizophrenia often need a remarkable level of love and support from friends and family members for treatment and recovery. The support can help them through school, handle relationships, get employment, and accomplish goals that you set. Discovering that a loved one has schizophrenia can usher in a myriad of emotions, from fear and guilt to frustration and anger.
It is easy to feel helpless when you do not know what to do about its symptoms. You may be bothered about schizophrenia stigma, as well as the confusion and embarrassment caused by the eccentric behaviors. You may even get tempted to hide the person’s condition from other people.
However, it is necessary to note that a schizophrenia diagnosis is not a life sentence. Patients can recover and manage the condition successfully with their friends and close relatives’ support and love. To help someone with schizophrenia, you need to be ready to accept the condition and its challenges and never believe the myth that they cannot have a better or live a productive life.
While helping your loved one feel good and enjoy life, you also need to note your needs and stay optimistic. Although dealing with schizophrenia can be difficult, this article provides the Dos and Don’ts that can help you assist the patient on their recovery journey without abandoning your dreams and aspirations.
The Dos and Don’ts of Schizophrenia
Schizophrenia is a disorder associated with psychosis, in which the affected person loses touch with reality, causing serious disruptions in emotion, thoughts, and behavior. The condition can exhibit itself in symptoms such as delusions, disorganized thinking and paranoia, and audio and visual hallucinations. If you have someone experiencing psychotic symptoms, the first thing is to make sure you do not aggravate the condition and get them the needed help. The following are the dos and don’ts of helping someone with schizophrenia.
DO NOT OVERREACT OR GET AGITATED
If the person is experiencing signs of schizophrenia, they might say or some weird or even disturbing things. The basic step to take is to learn more about what the person is dealing with while staying calm. People with schizophrenia get emotional reflectors, which means someone experiencing psychotic symptoms can be easily moved or affected by other people’s emotions.
You may feel that being in that condition will stop them from picking cues of your actions and feelings, but that may not be the situation. They may be more mindful of surrounding negative emotions than you are, which is enough reason to watch your behavior as well. Also, avoid taking offense from the words they say or attempt a confrontation. It is advisable to keep yourself calm before attempting any engagement.
DO PAY ATTENTION WITHOUT JUDGEMENT
Listen to what the person is saying and try not to be dismissive or laugh it off. Show empathy for the emotions they are experiencing. If your loved one is dealing with paranoia and fear, know that they are legitimately feeling those emotions. Sometimes, people with schizophrenia are not always open about their experiences and the reason. Ask them what you can do to help or if they can tell you how they feel. Keep your voice calm and reassure them that you understand the emotions they are experiencing – that may put them at enough ease to talk about them.
DO NOT FOCUS ON DIAGNOSIS, MEDICATION, OR TREATMENT
Depending on the person’s point in their recovery journey, you may have seen them before during one of their psychotic phases. You may be aware of the condition causing the symptoms and the prescribed medication they are using to manage the condition. Although this might be the case, telling the person that they are only dealing with a disorder’s symptoms and they only have to continue to use their drugs may not do much to help – it may even worsen the situation.
The delusions or hallucinations that the person is experiencing appears completely real to them as your current reality. Telling them that what they feel, think, or see is not real will only serve to drive you apart. It is entirely okay to amicably ask some questions about medication to know more about the condition but insisting or forcing the person to use meds when they are still in that psychotic state will only make them believe you are working against them. You want the person to know and think of you as their main supporter, not an antagonist.
DO REMIND THEM TO KEEP USING THEIR MEDS
While you should never force someone with schizophrenia to use their drugs, you should also try to help them stay consistent. They may not know that the meds help their mental health or thought patterns, but they can be aware of the side effects. These may include fatigue, dizziness, muscle cramps, and weight gain, leading them to quit using their medications. Consult the doctor to help the patient get an effective medication for the condition and with minimal side effects so that your loved ones will stick to their treatment plan. Weekly pillboxes and medication calendars can be helpful for those with schizophrenia to use their medications regularly.
DO TALK CALMLY AND SLOWLY
People experiencing schizophrenia or have just gone through a psychotic state might find it hard to comprehend complex languages like sarcasm, exaggeration, metaphors, or double-entendres. It is advisable to talk in short, concise sentences to avoid confusing or upsetting them. Ask one question each time and allow enough time for an answer. Try to stay at the same eye level. Try not to stand and hover if they are sitting. Also, if other people are around, do not initiate discussions about them like they are not present. You want to send a message to your loved one that you and everyone around them are trying to help them improve.
DO NOT MAKE THREATS
If you are a parent or guardian, you may be tempted easily to threaten your child with consequences for their actions. When it comes to schizophrenia, it is not advisable to issue any form of threat or negative consequences for their behavior. The reason behind the behavior stems from the mental health disorder, not from lack of discipline. Also, when the person is experiencing schizophrenia, trying to talk them out of the behavior or rationalize will probably not be effective.
Ask the person what they want and if it is not the first time it happened, ask them what helped them the last time they felt that way. They may mention the person that helps them through the period, probably a therapist or psychiatrist. Knowing who the person trusts are a vital part of getting them the right help needed.
DO CONTACT THE MENTAL HEALTH PROFESSIONAL
The affected person may not be enthusiastic about getting assistance. This can be confusing and upsetting for most families. If you are worried that you or a loved one is dealing with symptoms of schizophrenia, you must seek the help of a licensed mental health expert. There are online resources available to guide you through the process. If they are refusing help or treatment, hospitalization might be necessary. Sometimes, the police’s help might be handy if the person poses a threat to themselves or their loved ones. After treatment starts and the symptoms improve, families can help guide their loved ones towards living optimally and productively.
DO ENCOURAGE THEM TO SCHEDULE DOCTOR APPOINTMENTS REGULARLY
People with schizophrenia may not think they have a disorder or need medical assistance. Regardless, regular doctor appointments are important. The earlier the person begins treatment, the better the results. Arguing with the patient or telling them their reality is false will not make them seek help. Instead, it is better to remind them that treatment will help them attain whatever goals they have for themselves. The person has to feel somewhat motivated.
DO HELP THEM AVOID ALCOHOL AND ILLICIT DRUGS
When some people with schizophrenia are dealing with the symptoms like hearing voices, they may seek respite by indulging in alcohol or drug use, which will work quickly to make them feel differently. Caregivers can help stop substance abuse by removing alcohol and drugs from the house. They can also help them understand that staying off drugs and alcohol can keep them healthy and accomplish their goals.
DO HELP THEM REDUCE STRESS
Stress can make it difficult for someone dealing with schizophrenia to function and may cause a relapse. You need to know if you live with someone with schizophrenia because a loud, rowdy household and other stressors can aggravate delusions, hallucinations, and other symptoms. Everyone desires respectful treatment and tends to perform optimally in a safe and calm home environment.
DO HELP THEM RETAIN A HEALTHY WEIGHT
One of the side effects of schizophrenia medications is weight gain, which can increase the risk of conditions associated with obesity. Taking a nutritious diet is the most effective way to maintain proper weight, but not everyone can make proper meals. You can help someone with schizophrenia by accompanying them to the grocery stores and opening conversations about healthy eating. A nutritionist can help teach the person to make healthy meal choices and proper meal planning. Regular exercise is also a major part of weight management, so encourage them to stay physically active.
DO NOT ENFORCE AUTHORITY
Schizophrenia is often first noticed during the late teenage years, a period when young people desire freedom and independence. However, regardless of the patient’s age, people with schizophrenia do not like micromanagement or bothered about everything from using meds or cleaning their space.
Instead of saying things like, “you need to go get a job,” caregivers should focus on the patient’s goals and what they need to do to accomplish them. The point is to think of them following the same path they would have followed if they never got a diagnosis. Family therapy can help families avoid power struggles and work on ideal conversations for a person with schizophrenia.
DO HELP THEM MAINTAIN SOCIAL SKILLS
The sleep cycle of people dealing with schizophrenia is often disruptive, causing them to stay awake late at night and eventually waking up in the middle of the day. Sleeping late can mess up sleep routines and cause isolation. Other signs of schizophrenia, such as poor interpersonal skills and social withdrawal, can also cause isolation.
Caregivers can help the person stay social by following routines such as planned social events and outings. Participate actively by enrolling in a community program, following them to the park weekly, or making contact with friends.
DO CARE FOR YOURSELF
You are not selfish by caring for yourself. In fact, it is just as helpful for the person with schizophrenia that you care for your health needs. Schizophrenia can cause remarkable stress on the family. It can get overwhelming and get you exhausted. When you are stressed, you will make the person with schizophrenia feel stressed too, which may trigger or worsen their symptoms. Since having a healthy lifestyle is also necessary for your loved one for managing schizophrenia symptoms, you can be a role model by taking care of your health. You can even try to accomplish the goals together. Caring for yourself means interacting socially, exercising regularly, eating healthily, creating time for fun activities, and using relaxation techniques such as meditation, yoga, deep breathing, or progressive muscle relaxation.
You can help someone with schizophrenia by taking steps toward accomplishing treatment goals. It is possible to manage the symptoms successfully, but it takes time and consistency. To begin the recovery journey, you can take an assessment test for schizophrenia and talk to a licensed therapist.