If you have a friend or loved one with schizophrenia, you can make a big difference in their life and even help them on the road to recovery. That said, it’s not uncommon for you to struggle with different emotions, including fear, guilt, anger, and frustration. Your loved one’s symptoms can make you feel helpless, confused, or even embarrassed by their strange behaviors.
Fortunately, a diagnosis of schizophrenia isn’t a life sentence. With your love and support, recovery is possible. To help someone with schizophrenia, it’s important that you:
• Accept the illness and its difficulties
• Know that people with schizophrenia can get better and lead a full life
• Be present to your loved one to help them feel better and enjoy life
• Be sure you attend to your own needs as well
• Keep your sense of humor and stay hopeful
The strategies outlined below will help you guide your loved one on the road to recovery without losing your hopes and dreams in the process.
8 Tips for Helping a Friend or Loved One with Schizophrenia
1. Encourage Them to Schedule Regular Doctor Appointments
Keeping doctor appointments is critical for people with schizophrenia. They might not even believe that they have a mental illness or need treatment, but you can help them by reminding them that treatment can help them reach their goals, whatever those are. Doing this can help motivate them to get treatment.
2. Remind them to Take Their Medications
People with schizophrenia may not notice the improvements their medications deliver, but they can notice the side effects. Some of the side effects include weight gain, tiredness, dizziness, and muscle cramps, which can cause some people with schizophrenia to stop taking their medications. Let them know that they can work with their doctor to find the medication that keeps their schizophrenia under control with the fewest side effects. This can help them stick to their treatment plan. You can also recommend medication calendars and weekly pill boxes that serve as reminders for them to take their medications.
3. Help Them Avoid Alcohol and Illicit Drugs
Symptoms of schizophrenia, such as hearing voices, can cause some people to turn to drugs and alcohol for relief because they make them feel different. You or their caregiver can help by clearing their house of alcohol and drugs and by talking with them about how abstaining can help them feel better in the long run.
4. Help Them to be Less Stressed
Stress can trigger symptoms of schizophrenia and even make them worse, especially in a loud, chaotic household or when confronted with other sources of stress. You can help by taking steps to create a calm, inviting environment.
5. Help Them Maintain a Healthy Weight
Some of the medications used to treat schizophrenia can cause weight gain and other obesity-related complications. Encouraging them to eat a healthy diet is one of the best ways to help them keep their weight in check. Accompany them to the grocery store and help them pick out healthy, nutritious foods. You can also encourage them to exercise by going on walks with them or doing other things that keep them physically active.
6. Watch for Signs of Relapse
One of the most frequent causes of relapse in schizophrenia is stopping the medication, so it’s very important that your loved one continues to take all medication as directed. While relapse can happen if someone is taking all their medication, you can help them avoid a crisis by being able to recognize these warning signs and taking immediate action:
Deterioration of personal hygiene
Confusing or nonsensical speech
7. Help Them Maintain Their Social Skills
People with schizophrenia tend to reverse their sleep cycles, staying up late then sleeping until the afternoon. This can disrupt their routine and cause them to isolate themselves. You can help a loved one maintain social skills by adhering to routines and planning social activities and outings. Invite them out to the park or for coffee. Initiate gatherings with friends and family. This will help them be more active and social.
8. Know That You May Have to Intervene for Safety’s Sake
People with schizophrenia may need to be hospitalized if they refuse treatment or any help. In some cases, families may need to call the police if they become a danger to themselves or others. Once their treatment resumes, you can help them get back on track with their goals.
What Not to Say to Someone with Schizophrenia
Due to our fears, we tend to be overcautious and oversensitive in dealing with people who have mental health issues. As a caregiver, family member, friend, or colleague of a person with schizophrenia, you can support the person by being there for them, and having normal conversations with them. That said, here are some things you shouldn’t say to someone with schizophrenia:
• How many personalities do you have? It’s a common myth that people with schizophrenia have split personalities. This is offensive and should never be said.
• This is so schizophrenic! Using the diagnosis of schizophrenia in this manner just trivializes a disabling disease and should never be said.
• You don’t look schizophrenic. This assumes that all people with schizophrenia look disheveled or should be wearing a straitjacket. Lumping them all together in this way is offensive as well.
• I’m a bit mental, too. Comparing serious mental illness to your “crazy” behavior (i.e., wearing loud socks or always singing in the shower) is a clueless thing to say to someone with schizophrenia.
Find Professional Help for Someone with Schizophrenia
Schizophrenia is a serious mental illness that shouldn’t be ignored. In addition to the help of family and friends, getting proper treatment from a mental health professional for schizophrenia is crucial to keeping it under control.
If you or someone you know is seeking treatment for schizophrenia, find a Baptist Health behavior health provider near you.
Useful Resources and Next Steps: