Giving support to a family member or friend with schizophrenia means helping him get the medical and psychological treatment he needs. But it also means taking care of yourself at the same time.
Use these 10 ideas to create an action plan that works for both of you.
1. Educate Yourself
Schizophrenia is a difficult mental illness to understand. So learn as much as you can. The more information you have, the better prepared you will be to deal with it.
You’ll also be better able to support your family member with schizophrenia. And that can boost the odds that he will stick with his treatment, even when things gets tough.
2. Be Goal-Oriented
A doctor will set up a wellness plan with your loved one that will include specific goals. If you’re not sure who to call to get treatment started, try your family doctor, who may refer you to a psychiatrist.
Your job as a caregiver is to remind your loved one how important it is to stick to his goals, and to encourage him to stay on his medication. He needs to follow his treatment plan to help prevent the disease from coming back and keep his symptoms from getting worse.
3. Keep Track of Details
Go to all doctor appointments with your loved one. It will make it easier for you to help him with his treatment plan. Ask his doctor as many questions as you need, and keep details. Remember: The doctor is there to help both of you.
Also, take notes to every appointment. Some things to include are:
- Your loved one’s recent symptoms (what they are and when they started)
- Any other medical conditions he may have
- New sources of stress (these can include major life changes)
- Medications, vitamins, herbs, or any other supplements that he has taken, as well as the dosage
4. Join Support Groups
Encourage your family member or friend to join a group, and make sure he gets to the meetings. In these support groups, he will be among other people with schizophrenia who will share their experiences. It may help him feel less alone.
The Schizophrenia and Related Disorders Alliance of America (SARDAA) and National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) both offer support.
5. Avoid Stress
Activities like yoga, tai chi, and meditation can make both of you feel more relaxed. Try to do them regularly so you can use them in a crisis.
6. Learn How to Respond
When someone with schizophrenia has hallucinations (hears or sees things that aren’t there) or delusions (believes things that aren’t true, even when he gets proof that they’re false), he believes they are real. It doesn’t help him to say they’re not.
Instead, tell him that you each see things in your own way. Be respectful, kind, and supportive, and call his doctor if needed.
If he’s acting out hallucinations, stay calm, call 911, and tell the dispatcher he has schizophrenia. While you wait for paramedics, don’t argue, shout, criticize, threaten, block the doorway, touch him, or stand over him. Also avoid direct eye contact, which could make him feel threatened.
7. Be Ready to Respond
If a person with schizophrenia has a psychotic episode, which means their hallucinations or delusions become a lot worse and more severe, you need to size up the situation quickly and decide who to call. If another person is available, ask them to stay with your loved one while you contact the doctor or 911.
If your loved one threatens suicide, don’t leave him alone. If his behavior becomes dangerous, immediately call 911 and ask for the police. Tell them he has schizophrenia and explain the situation, but let them handle it. Police are trained to evaluate and manage people with psychotic disorders and other types of emotional distress. Call his doctor to let her know what’s going on, as well.
On your smartphone, you can also download the Psychiatric Crisis Resources Kit app (from the Treatment Advocacy Center). It has state-specific standards on emergency hospitalization and can be useful in a crisis.
8. Know the Signs of Suicide
Most people with schizophrenia are harmless to others. They’re more likely to hurt themselves than anybody else. Sometimes that includes trying to take their own life. You should take any suicidal talk seriously, and pay attention to poems, notes, or any other things your loved one creates that are about death.
Also, be suspicious if he suddenly goes from depressed to cheerful. This change could mean he’s thinking about suicide. For help on the spot, call your doctor and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.
9. Stay in Touch
When a person with schizophrenia feels alone, his suicidal thoughts may increase. If you don’t live close by, you can help by staying in touch via telephone, text, email, and mail. Sending short notes like postcards and greeting cards can remind him how much you care.
10. Take Care of Yourself
It can be draining to look after someone with schizophrenia. You need to make nurturing yourself a top priority every day. It’s common for caregivers to feel sad, angry, alone, or afraid of what others will think.
Reach out to friends and family, and tell them what you need. They can:
- Listen to you without judging you
- Find information and doctors
- Share hopeful stories, moral support, and spiritual guidance
- Offer financial assistance
- Do your housework and babysit your kids
Most of all, eat well, get enough sleep, exercise, and take part in fun activities. You can’t be “on call” 24 hours a day. So schedule guilt-free vacations and give yourself a complete break from time to time.