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How You Can Support Your Loved One With Schizophrenia

Understanding Schizophrenia

When your friend or family member is diagnosed with schizophrenia, it can feel like the floor just dropped out from under you. One day, everything seems normal. The next, you’re faced with a mental illness that you don’t fully understand.

The situation may feel bleak, but there’s reason for hope. With the proper treatment and a strong support network, it is absolutely possible for your loved one to get their schizophrenia symptoms under control and live a full, meaningful life. You can play a vital role in this process. 

Understanding Schizophrenia 

Schizophrenia typically emerges in the late teens to mid-30s, with men being slightly more likely to suffer from the condition than women. The exact causes are unknown, but it is believed to result from a combination of genetic and environmental factors that disrupt brain chemistry and development.

The symptoms of schizophrenia are typically divided into three different categories:

  • Psychotic symptoms. Delusions (false beliefs that contradict reality), hallucinations (seeing, hearing, smelling, or feeling things that aren’t real), and disorganized patterns of thinking and speech.
  • Negative symptoms. A lack of motivation, problems with communication, and difficulty showing emotion when around other people.  
  • Cognitive issues. Struggles with concentration, memory, and processing information. 

It is a common misconception that people with schizophrenia are dangerous. Most people with schizophrenia are not violent and are actually more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators. However, there is a slightly elevated risk of violence when the illness is untreated, the person doesn’t take their medication as prescribed, the person is also abusing drugs and alcohol, and there was a history of violence before the onset of their illness.

Why Your Loved One May Avoid Treatment

One of the most frustrating parts of loving someone with schizophrenia is that the person may not understand that they are mentally ill. Medically, this diagnosis denial is referred to as anosognosia. This term comes from a Greek expression meaning “to not know a disease.”

The same brain abnormalities and neurological deficits that cause delusions and hallucinations impair the ability of someone with schizophrenia to recognize that their experiences are due to a mental health condition. Since their delusions and hallucinations feel entirely real, they do not see their experiences as stemming from a disordered mind. Cognitive deficits related to memory, attention, and executive functioning can further exacerbate this problem.

In some cases, anosognosia may also be a psychological defense mechanism. To avoid the stigma associated with schizophrenia, the person may refuse to acknowledge their illness altogether. 

It is sometimes possible to legally compel a person with schizophrenia to seek treatment if they are thought to be a danger to themselves or others or if their symptoms are so severe that they are unable to make their own health care decisions. However, involuntary treatment should be thought of as a last resort. It’s best to continually work on providing encouragement to overcome anosognosia and seek treatment voluntarily.

Steps You Can Take to Support Your Loved One 

Your support can be invaluable for a friend or family member who is struggling with schizophrenia. Here are some steps you can take to help your loved one during this difficult time:

  • Encourage continued professional treatment. Schizophrenia requires professional treatment, usually involving a combination of antipsychotic medications and psychotherapy. Offer to help make appointments, provide transportation, and even attend sessions as a supportive partner in their recovery.
  • Be patient, compassionate, and non-judgmental. Living with the delusions, hallucinations, and cognitive impairments of schizophrenia is an immense challenge. Your friend or family member is not choosing to think or behave this way. Strive to show empathy and to keep your temper in check.
  • Help create a calm, structured, and stress-free environment. Excessive stress can exacerbate schizophrenia symptoms. Do your best to create a stable, predictable environment and daily routine. 
  • Assist with daily living activities if needed. The cognitive impairments and negative symptoms of schizophrenia can make completing basic tasks difficult. Offer help with things like medication adherence, personal hygiene, finances, or grocery shopping when needed.
  • Encourage healthy habits. Lifestyle habits like regular exercise, a nutritious diet, good sleep, avoiding drugs or alcohol, and doing relaxing activities can positively impact mental health.
  • Involve your loved one in social activities and outings. Isolation and withdrawal are common in schizophrenia. Invite your loved one to join you for a walk, a meal at a favorite restaurant, or a movie, but don’t insist if they resist. 
  • Work with their treatment team. With your loved one’s permission, work with their doctors, therapists, or social workers to learn more about what you can do to promote positive treatment outcomes.

It’s also important to remember to care for yourself during this difficult time. Self-care is not selfish. If you’re neglecting your own physical or mental health, you won’t be able to effectively support your friend or family member. 

We’re Here to Help 

At Raleigh Oaks Behavioral Health in Garner, North Carolina, we provide the comprehensive support system people with schizophrenia need to ensure a long-term recovery. Contact us today to learn more about how our services can help your loved one take the first steps toward a brighter future.

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