Everyone needs help now and then. For someone who has a serious medical condition, such as schizophrenia, it’s especially important to have a strong network of people you can turn to when things aren’t going well.
"We know that people are healthiest when they are in relationships. The very nature of serious mental illness isolates people. So whatever you can do to connect to a community will directly contribute to your health," says Nancy Ford, executive director of the North Shore Schizophrenia Society, based in Vancouver, Canada.
Family members, friends, and health professionals can help you:
Spot warning signs of a relapse. Are you sleeping more or less than usual? Have you been smoking or drinking a lot, or making strange phone calls? Changes in behavior like these may point to a problem.
"Friends can help you see that you're acting a little differently. But you have to build up a relationship where you trust these people," says Linda Stalters, executive director of the Schizophrenia and Related Disorders Alliance of America. "They may see things that you're not aware of and help you recognize that you might need an adjustment in your medication."
Avoid triggers. "Things like smoking marijuana or drinking alcohol can make symptoms worse, or make you less likely to stick to a treatment plan," Ford says.
Notice when you’re stressed. "People who know you well can help you figure out what is stressful in your life and figure out how to cope with the stressors," Stalters says.
Keep you from getting isolated. Good friends will understand that you won't always try to get out. Let them know that you need them to call you, and schedule regular coffee dates or other outings.
Help you get resources you need. Your mental health care team can find you a supportive work environment, a coach to help you find a job, or a way to do better at school.
The hardest step is often the first one.
"Start with just one person," Ford says. "Identify someone that you know and trust. Let them know that you would like support and help. It's hard to reach out at first, but many people are often waiting to be invited to help. They may hold back because they don't want to butt in."
Some places to start:
Your family and friends. Think of the people who have been most understanding. Who's called? Who's sent emails? Reach out to them.
Peer support groups. There are many groups in which people with schizophrenia help each other.
"Schizophrenics Anonymous has support groups run by and for peers with schizophrenia," Stalters says. Check for groups near where you live.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness also has online and in-person groups, including NAMI Connection, a weekly recovery support group for people with mental illness. The organization also sponsors Peer-to-Peer, a free educational program taught by trained people who are recovering from mental illness -- people like you.
Health professionals. If you're in treatment, you have access to a team of professionals who can help you find resources you need, such as:
- Case managers
- Social workers
Group therapy. Ask your mental health professionals about this. Unlike support groups, group therapy sessions are run by professional therapists. You'll find people there who have some of the same issues you do, and who can relate.
Other support groups. Are you a single parent? Or recovering from alcoholism? There are in-person and online support groups for thousands of issues. You can reach out for help and community in those groups, too.
"I used to run a support group for single moms, including a woman with schizophrenia," Ford says. "She shared with the group that she had schizophrenia, and when she started to exhibit signs of illness, her friends in the group got in touch with me. I spoke to her, and it turned out that her doctor had been adjusting her medications, and it was hard for her to know if it was working or not."
Remember, it takes a strong person to reach out.
"Even the most capable person in the world still needs support," Ford says. "It doesn't matter who you are or what's going on in your life, having relationships and building support networks is critical."