11 Minutes

Edited & clinically reviewed by THE BALANCE Team
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It is natural to feel an urge to help a loved one when they are battling with any problem, may it be an illness, physical or mental, or any other stressors in life. But the problem with helping someone with a mental health disorder is that one may not know how to approach their loved ones because it is too tricky a task and one can not simply jump in as a saviour. 

When your loved one is affected with schizophrenia, it can be all the more complicated to deal with them since the nature of this mental illness makes it very difficult for them to understand our intentions. Loving someone with schizophrenia is challenging given the emotional and mental challenges that their partner has to battle. With that being said, it is not entirely impossible to deal with your loved one with schizophrenia. There are ways to cope with this mental health disorder but before jumping on it, let’s develop an understanding of schizophrenia itself. 

Schizophrenia is a chronic mental health condition that alters the way an individual thinks, behaves, perceives reality, and responds to other individuals. Schizophrenic individuals experience delusions and hallucinations and have a disorganised thought pattern which makes it hard for them to express their emotions. Moreover, schizophrenia is such a severe and debilitating condition that it hampers the individuals productivity by interfering in daily life activities. 

This mental health disorder negatively affects the relationships, work, and academic life of schizophrenic individuals. Schizophrenic individuals might feel isolated and withdrawn and are frightened because their symptoms make them become dissociated from reality. Sadly, there is no cure for schizophrenia at the moment but this condition can be controlled with life-long treatment.

Schizophrenia is not a very common mental health disorder but it is one of the most severe ones. According to a study, roughly 14.5 out of 1000 individuals suffer from schizophrenia and schizophrenia-related disorders in the UK. It majorly affects women who are in their 20s and 30s. In men, it shows the initial symptoms in the late teenage years or early 20s. 

Schizophrenia was confused with a split personality disorder because during episodes of psychosis these individuals would lose touch with reality and find it hard to distinguish what is real from what they perceive to be real. However, against popular belief, it has been observed that schizophrenia is different from a split personality disorder. The setting in which these individuals switch into unusual and strange behaviour is always the result of a psychotic episode and not due to an underlying personality disorder. 

The intensity of schizophrenia varies from person to person. For some schizophrenic individuals life may be relatively normal with just one episode of psychosis throughout their lifetime while others may experience intense bouts of psychotic episodes multiple times in their life. 

It can be difficult to spot schizophrenia in the initial stages of the illness because the signs and symptoms may be very subtle to garner attention. However, you should keep an eye on your loved one if you notice any of these changes as they are the earliest signs of schizophrenia:

  • May become socially withdrawn 
  • Have trouble in concentrating 
  • Fall in academic grades 
  • Experience temper issues
  • Having difficulty sleeping 

The key features of schizophrenia are referred to as positive symptoms and the word ‘positive’ doesn’t portray a good sign, rather it indicates the presence of these characteristic findings of this mental health disorder. The positive symptoms of schizophrenia include:

  • Hallucinations- they are false sensations that are perceived by the individuals such as hearing voices as if someone is giving them command, smelling strange odour, feeling a different taste in their mouth, and experiencing weird sensations on their skin. 
  • Delusions- these are false beliefs that are held in a strong opinion by these individuals and no matter how hard one tries to get these beliefs off their mind, they generally have no luck. They believe that someone is placing thoughts in their mind or that someone is after them. 
  • Catatonia- this is a state of being motionless, where a schizophrenic person acquires a position and stays fixed on it for very long hours. These individuals may become completely mute in a catatonic episode.

Individuals with schizophrenia experience negative symptoms and here ‘negative’ signifies the absence of a normal behaviour pattern. These symptoms include:

  • They have less energy 
  • They speak less
  • They have poor grooming habits and have an unkempt look 
  • Losing interest in activities of life 
  • Getting withdrawn from friends and family 
  • They have blank faces and don’t have emotions 

Schizophrenia is a complex psychological disorder and the definite cause of this condition is not known. Researchers have worked on finding the causes underlying this severe mental health disorder 

It has a genetic basis and is transferred from one generation to the next. Moreover, brain chemistry is altered in schizophrenic individuals which affects their thought process and their behaviour. Research has shown that some individuals with schizophrenia have abnormal brain structure, however, it is not seen in all individuals affected with this disorder. Viral infections and toxins such as marijuana and stressors in life can trigger psychotic episodes and result in schizophrenia. 

It is going to be a tough task; one that requires ample strength, courage, and perseverance, when you have to deal with your loved one with schizophrenia. 

Here is how you can go about the situation.

  • Learn about the disorder

In order to help with their mental health disorder you first need to educate yourself about the condition, schizophrenia in this case so that you are well aware about what happens with your loved one and what challenges they face while struggling with the disease. Once you are well-equipped with the right information about schizophrenia you will understand the shortcomings of your loved one and you try to ease things for them. 

Knowing about the treatment for schizophrenia will help you to encourage your loved one to seek professional help and you can provide them support throughout their journey to reduce setbacks and make the path to recovery less challenging. 

  • Be a good listener

Most individuals with schizophrenia are not heard, probably because of their inability to trust or find the right people with whom they can easily communicate and open up about the struggles they face. If your loved one is dealing with a mental health disorder such as schizophrenia then you ought to be a good listener and listen to them with undivided attention such that you should not be watching tv or answering someone on your phone while they try to discuss their problem with you. Because this is a very sensitive situation and if you listen to them in a distracted manner, they will get the impression that you are not interested and any support coming from your side in the future will not be well-received by them and they might never be able to trust you again.  

To avoid things getting rough between you and your loved one, listen to them with full interest and do not be judgemental rather try to be empathetic since schizophrenia symptoms make it difficult for them to communicate. Even if you don’t understand your loved one’e condition, try to offer them comfort. And if your loved one is not opening up as you wished they would then respect their boundaries and wait for the right time when it might be easy to talk about their condition rather than insisting them to share everything at the given moment. 

  • Show empathy and avoid arguments  

A schizophrenic person goes through episodes of psychosis where they experience delusion and hallucinations and it is very difficult for them to make other people understand what they are dealing with because to them these hallucinations and delusions are nothing short of real while others find it hard to relate to them. If your loved one is dealing with schizophrenia, they might also be going through these symptoms of psychosis where they experience these delusions and hallucinations. In this situation you should try to be empathetic towards them, rather than arguing that what they are saying does not make sense to you.

Being compassionate and empathetic helps a great deal in dealing with your loved one with schizophrenia because they start trusting you and the thought of someone not judging them for their condition is a relief in itself for these individuals. You can talk to them about how the treatment should proceed and if their symptoms of psychosis are not improving they may change the therapist and use other strategies to cope with this condition. 

  • Try to reduce stress 

Symptoms of schizophrenia can aggravate in the setting of stress so it is vital to keep stress levels low in your environment so that it helps your loved one to recover rather than worsen their condition. You should set up an atmosphere that is supportive and encouraging for your loved one and help them grow. 

  • Do not take your loved one’s reaction personally

Dealing with schizophrenia is difficult and extremely exhausting for your loved one. When they are going through an episode of psychosis and experiencing hallucinations and delusions, they find it very difficult to express their fears and emotions to another person because they are unable to understand it themselves. It is emotionally turbulent for them as they can not make sense of things happening to them, nor can they make others understand what they are going through. 

So in these circumstances, your loved ones may become harsh and sound very uncornered about the hurt they are causing you, but the truth is, that they are dealing with a greater emotional and psychological turmoil that they can’t share with others and you need to not take their reaction and comments personally. It is not your loved ones fault that they are acting this way, it is a psychological illness that has taken a toll on them. 

  • Look after yourself 

While taking care of your loved one is very necessary, looking after yourself is imperative too. If you don’t take breaks and regain your strength you won’t be able to be able to help your loved one either. Engage yourself in activities that make you feel good such as exercising, journaling, etc. This will help you to stay connected with yourself and you will eventually find a balance between looking after our loved one and taking some time out for yourself. 

  • Encourage them to seek treatment 

Treatment is the cornerstone for managing schizophrenia and there is no alternative to this. You have to encourage and convince your loved one to seek professional help for their illness. But the question is ‘how to get a schizophrenic to trust you?’. Well, you have to be compassionate and show genuine concern for them and their illness. You can offer them multiple options for treatment to choose from, so they feel in control about managing their condition. Additionally, you can suggest your loved one  to seek treatment for a particular symptom such as being lethargic instead of going to a psychiatrist because they think they are crazy.

Along with encouraging treatment you should also motivate them to practise self-help like incorporating healthy meals in their diet, managing stress efficiently, and help them get enrolled in a support group as it will boost their self-esteem and will improve their confidence. 

  • Carefully monitor the treatment

Once your loved one starts their treatment for schizophrenia you need to carefully monitor it to avoid relapses and to provide them support. Since some medications for  treating schizophrenia have side effects, you should keep on a look if your loved one is complaining of any adverse effects. If this is the case, you should report to your doctor immediately, who will then change the antipsychotic medication. 

Compliance with medication is key and schizophrenic individuals tend to forget their schedule of taking pills and to address this issue you can download apps that can track their medicine doses, get them pill boxes, or put reminders in their calendar to help them take medicines regularly.

You should also keep a check that your loved one is not using any substance that is contraindicated to be used with antipsychotics such as alcohol as it can have a deleterious impact on their health both physically and psychologically. If you observe any such practice you should immediately seek the help of your doctor to mitigate the adverse effect that may ensue. 

  • Keep a look at signs of relapse

Discontinuing medication is the commonest reason for entering relapse in schizophrenia so it is crucial to help your loved one take medications as directed. Relapse cans sometimes occur in cases where an individual is regular with their medications. If you notice that your loved one is experiencing the following symptoms then chances are that they are relapsing and you need to get help at the earliest:

  • Being insomniac
  • Disappearing from time to time
  • Being hostile
  • Saying nonsensical speech
  • Experiencing hallucinations and/ or delusions
  • Not taking care of personal hygiene 
  • Experiencing an increase in paranoia 
  • Devise a plan for crisis 

 Schizophrenia is not a condition that can go away, as it needs lifetime management. Your loved one may need schizophrenia support in times of crisis when they have an acute episode of psychosis. Your loved one may even consider suicide as it is one of the common findings in schizophrenic people, however, you need to make a plan beforehand to deal with this situation of crises. 

You should take therapists, and psychiatrists on board with you and plan with your loved ones about where they wish to be treated in case of an acute event, either in a hospital setting in an emergency or if they prefer getting in touch with their psychiatrist. You should also contact friends or other family members who can take care of your loved ones petor children while you take them for treatment. If you know how to go about an episode of crisis, the situation may be less frightening for you will be able to  manage the event smoothly. 

  • Enrol your loved one in an inpatient rehabilitation program

Inpatient rehabilitation programs remain the last resort to the treatment of a schizophrenic person when routine treatments don’t yield great results. Luxury in-patient rehabilitation centres are a great option to help a schizophrenic person. In an isolated environment, away from the community and triggers of everyday life, these individuals receive treatment in a luxury setting with holistic therapies that have proven through research to show astounding results. 

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