Managing Schizophrenia With Family and Work

Medically Reviewed by Hansa D. Bhargava, MD on January 26, 2021
4 min read

There’s no one way to live with schizophrenia. The symptoms and challenges are different for each person with the illness. But your life is about more than your diagnosis. Having a support system, family or other loved ones, and a fulfilling job can allow you to live with schizophrenia on your own terms and achieve your personal recovery goals.

It’s important to remember that schizophrenia is a treatable medical condition. Early and consistent treatment keeps your symptoms under control and supports stability in your relationships and job.

“I talk with people about the five pillars of recovery,” says Corinne Cather, PhD, director of psychology services for the Massachusetts General Hospital schizophrenia program. Cather tells her patients to:

  1. Work with your doctor to find a medication plan that works for you and that you can use consistently.
  2. Avoid things like alcohol and drugs that can be harmful and interfere with your treatment.
  3. Manage stress, which can make symptoms worse.
  4. Surround yourself with family or friends who can support you and offer motivation to get better.
  5. Take part in a balance of meaningful and enjoyable activities, including work, school, recreation, and hobbies.

It’s often a source of great joy, but living with family and raising children can also be stressful, especially when you need to focus on staying well.

“If you’re having problems with certain relationships, it’s a good idea to try to sort those out,” says Jessica Gannon, MD, assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Learn to be aware of what causes you stress and may trigger your symptoms or make them worse.

Maybe you say to yourself, “I know that I’m really struggling because I keep having arguments with my mom over X-Y-Z,” Gannon says. That’s a good time to reach out to your therapist to work through the situation. Ask yourself, what’s going on in the relationship? What are you arguing about? “Basically, you can work through some of that conflict in therapy to reduce the stress around it,” Gannon says.

If you’re a parent, schizophrenia can make family life challenging. But it’s not impossible. You can make it easier if you:

  • Establish routines, boundaries, and rules for your children and yourself.
  • Don’t try to do it all. See what tasks you can take off your plate, or ask friends and family to help.
  • Stay connected with your child in any ways you can. An impromptu hug, a note tucked into a lunchbox, or one-on-one time can help you both feel close.
  • Talk with your child about your illness in an age-appropriate way. Get tips from your therapist or doctor on how to get started.

Remember, the best way to take care of your family is to take care of yourself. That means making sure you’re eating well, getting enough exercise and sleep, doing things that bring you joy, and sticking to your treatment plan.

Often, society at large and even those close to people with schizophrenia discourage them from seeking work. But Cather says, “It’s important that people believe in themselves that they can do it. They need to have some confidence that they can work.”

If you’ve been out of the work force for a while, she suggests taking it slow, starting with a more modest job and working your way up into the one you want. A “starter” job will help you practice the skills you need to do more difficult work later.

If you already have a job, be willing to ask for help when you need it. If you feel burned out, ask for time off or fewer hours. If mornings are difficult, ask your boss for a later start time. “I encourage people to make sure they request the accommodations they certainly are entitled to and to use them when they need them,” says Sarah Keedy, PhD, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral neuroscience at the University of Chicago Medical Center.

Under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), businesses with more than 15 employees must make reasonable accommodations for people with mental or physical impairments who are otherwise able to perform their jobs.

And while it can be challenging, try to persevere, Cather says. “People should try to remain engaged with work, no matter what’s going on, as best they can,” she says. The more gaps in your work history, the harder it can be not only to start fresh but to get work -- and work is good medicine.

Although some people with schizophrenia may notice when they start to slide into illness, others may not. “If they have trusted people in their lives -- family or maybe even co-workers --they can have a conversation in advance where they give that person permission to draw attention to the fact that they don’t seem like themselves,” Keedy says. Be sure to keep in regular touch with your care team so that they can help spot warning signs, too.

Living a meaningful life, no matter how that looks for you, will give you the drive to stay well. “It’s not so much ‘do you have symptoms or not,’” Gannon says. “When we talk about recovery, it’s ‘are you living the type of life that you want to lead?’ And you can redefine that at any time.”