How to Talk to Others About Schizophrenia

From the WebMD Archives

When you or someone you’re close to has schizophrenia, you may not want anyone to know. But explaining the illness to friends and family is an important way to help set up a support network.

It can be hard to talk about. So use these tips to help get that conversation going.

Prep Before the Talk

There are a lot of myths about schizophrenia, so you'll need to be ready to bust some of them.

Learn all you can about the condition: what causes it, the symptoms, and how it's treated. Ask your psychiatrist or psychologist for pamphlets and books so you can learn more.

Once you know more about schizophrenia, you'll be able to break down some of the stigma that still surrounds the illness. When you meet people who don't understand, tell them the way schizophrenia is shown in the media isn't always accurate.

In TV and movies, characters with schizophrenia often act bizarrely or are psycho killers. "The reality is people with schizophrenia rarely injure another person," says Dale Johnson, PhD, a retired professor in the University of Houston’s psychology department.

Stand Up for Yourself or Others

Be respectful when talking about the condition. Schizophrenia doesn't define a person. It’s just something they have.

If someone uses negative terms like "psycho" or "crazy," tell them why it's hurtful.

Be Open

Many people who have schizophrenia isolate themselves because they're afraid to tell anyone about their condition. If you can tell someone, be honest.

Talk openly about what it means to live with schizophrenia and how it makes you feel. If your friend or family member has the condition, ask if they're OK with you talking about it with other people.

Let people know that schizophrenia can affect a person's life, but that medications and therapy can ease the symptoms.

"All that schizophrenia means is that somebody is hurting an awful lot," says Bertram Karon, PhD, a retired professor of clinical psychology at Michigan State University. "It is treatable."

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Encourage Questions and Conversation

Some of your friends or family may hesitate to ask you about schizophrenia. Ask them to voice their concerns.

"Tell them that this person has schizophrenia, and this means he does not enter readily into conversations with people, and he is a little bit off on most social interactions, and we'd appreciate it if you would just try to talk with him," Johnson says.

In just a few sentences, you can help people understand they have nothing to be frightened about.

Focus on the Positive

If you have schizophrenia, when talking to others about yourself, try to mention all the good things you have to offer. Positive thoughts can help fight negative images of the condition.

Ask for Help

If you have trouble changing opinions on your own, get help. Many mental health organizations offer support groups. You'll meet other people who've been through the same experiences, and you can get advice on how to talk about the condition.

Two organizations that can help you find support are the National Alliance on Mental Illness and the Schizophrenia and Related Disorders Alliance of America.

WebMD Feature Reviewed by Joseph Goldberg, MD on March 11, 2014

Sources

SOURCES:

Owen, P. Psychiatric Services, July 2012.

Dale Johnson, PhD, retired professor, department of psychology, University of Houston.

Mueser, K. and Gingerich, S. The Complete Family Guide to Schizophrenia, Guilford Press, 2006.

Bertram Karon, PhD, retired professor of clinical psychology, Michigan State University.

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