The love and support of family and friends plays a crucial role in helping loved ones with schizophrenia stay stable, healthy, and oriented in reality. However, in order to provide the appropriate kinds of support while still maintaining care for themselves, families need to understand schizophrenia and the challenges facing those living with a schizophrenia diagnosis.
Schizophrenia is a chronic, debilitating mental disorder that significantly impacts an individual’s perceptions, thoughts, feelings, and behavior. The intensity of symptoms can vary from person to person. Still, most people living with schizophrenia have difficulty feeling anchored in reality and may experience hallucinations or compulsive, delusional beliefs that cause them to act out and mistrust the people around them. Even on good days, schizophrenia can cause difficulties with cognition and memory, making our loved ones feel isolated and unable to communicate their experiences and feelings to others.
The exact cause of schizophrenia is unknown, but experts believe a combination of genetics, environmental factors, and altered brain chemistry and structure play a role. Schizophrenia is a disorder that impacts the brain in the same way that diabetes and asthma are conditions that affect the body. It isn’t anyone’s fault that someone has schizophrenia.
It can be easy for individuals living with schizophrenia and their families to become overwhelmed with feelings of hopelessness, but, much like diabetes and asthma, symptoms of schizophrenia can be managed through a combination of medication and lifestyle changes along with strong social, emotional and professional support. While there is as of yet no known cure, people with schizophrenia can learn to lead productive, stable lives with the right kind of support.
Schizophrenia Impacts Those Around You
Mental illness often has a ripple effect on families and loved ones, creating tension, uncertainty, and emotional conflicts, along with interruptions to daily life. This is especially true for schizophrenia. The paranoia and delusional beliefs that often accompany schizophrenia can cause those living with a diagnosis to see threats and conspiracies where there are none and create difficult barriers between themselves and the people around them. It can be very challenging for individuals with schizophrenia to maintain healthy relationships with their families and communities. Without proper support, they can be left feeling incredibly isolated.
Similarly, it can be difficult for people with schizophrenia to pursue education and maintain employment. Besides the challenge of managing symptoms in high-stress environments, a person with schizophrenia faces several obstacles when seeking employment. It can be hard to explain gaps in a resume to potential employers without revealing your mental health status, and stigma and discrimination against people with mental illness are still prevalent in much of society. Often, the majority of job opportunities available to people with schizophrenia are entry-level positions without real opportunities for advancement, which generally don’t offer health insurance and other benefits that are a vital issue for those living with a mental illness.
It can be even harder for people with schizophrenia to start families of their own and lead independent lives. Many people living with a diagnosis often require at least some degree of long-term care for most of their lives, with about half of known cases in the US living in group homes or with family. In contrast, many others struggle with homelessness or unstable living conditions.
How You Can Help Your Loved One With Schizophrenia
Thankfully there are many ways to help a family member suffering from schizophrenia. Supporting them in seeking and staying in treatment, recognizing when professional intervention is necessary, and maintaining medication adherence are paramount to rehabilitation. Using tools such as pill calendars, timed digital dispensers, and mobile apps for medication tracking can be an enormous help to those whose illness interferes with memory and cognitive function. Making sure loved ones attend therapy and doctor’s appointments by providing transportation or even attending family sessions with them can establish accountability and ensure progress.
It’s essential to remain aware of risk factors such as increased depression and the potential for suicidal thoughts during and after difficult episodes. Any threats or signs of self-harm must be taken seriously; don’t be afraid to get help when it’s needed. Check in with your loved ones regularly about how they’re feeling, and let them know you’re there to listen. Use an empathetic approach when discussing symptoms like delusional beliefs and hallucinations rather than arguing against their reality. Compassion, encouragement, and support in daily life are foundational to helping schizophrenia become more manageable.
The most important thing is simply being there for your loved one. Living with a schizophrenia diagnosis can be confusing, scary, and isolating, and in many cases, family caregivers are the only friends and first line of support someone has. Help expand their world by inviting them along to do simple things with you, and encourage–but never force–them to spend time with other relatives and family friends in comfortable, relaxed group settings. Displaying trust and patience while supporting your loved one in gaining control over their illness will help foster the self-reliance and responsibility they need to move forward.
Mental Illness Signs You Should Watch For
Sometimes, despite the best care and significant progress made in treatment, symptoms of schizophrenia can flare up in response to a variety of external and internal stimuli, and episodes of relapse can occur. These recurrences, characterized by exacerbated symptoms and heightened psychic distress, are most often precipitated by a discontinuation or lapse in treatment or medication. However, high levels of stress and significant life changes can also trigger a relapse.
In most cases, there are many warning signs we can look out for that will help us to anticipate and hopefully prevent or at least mitigate the severity of relapses. An intervention may be necessary if you notice your loved one exhibiting the following signs:
- Seeming unusually depressed and withdrawn
- Increased trouble focusing and problems with memory
- Deterioration in personal hygiene and self-care
- Unwarranted hostility or irritability
- Inability to sit still and control ticks
- Difficulty with or changes in communication, such as disorganized speech and flat affect
- Expressing unusual beliefs or seeing things that aren’t there
These behaviors may be an indication that your loved one needs to increase treatment or up medication dosage.
Life Adjustment Team — Supporting Your Family Members Suffering From Schizophrenia
Outpatient treatment programs like LAT’s Assertive Community Treatment model of care are an immeasurably valuable resource in the fight against schizophrenia for families and their loved ones. Our team’s state-of-the-art rehabilitation techniques, comprehensive training, and in-home family support provides a robust support network to lessen the load on family caregivers and build a pathway to progress for those living with a diagnosis.
Our priority is to provide the best level of care not only to our clients but to their families as well. At LAT, we understand the impact of schizophrenia on family members and individuals alike, and we bring winning, evidence-based strategies to the table to help you and your loved ones “Learn To Live Well.”
Contact Us for Mental Health Services
Our practice is informed by 40 years of experience in community-based mobile psychiatric rehabilitation outreach and the very best training, research, and expertise in the health and behavioral fields. When you work with our Team, you can trust that your family is safe in the hands of highly qualified professionals with a proven track record of successfully helping people gain self-confidence, find direction, and make progress along their journeys to recovery. Contact us today to start your journey.