Learn / How to Help Someone with Schizophrenia: Strategies for Care

How to Help Someone with Schizophrenia: Strategies for Care

Sarah Shawaker
 October 18th, 2023|   Clinically Reviewed by 
Dr. Malasri Chaudhery-Malgeri, Ph.D.

Key Points

  • Schizophrenia is a serious mental health disorder that requires professional help.
  • With early intervention and support, those with schizophrenia can lead meaning lives.
  • Having a routine and practicing coping skills can help manage their condition.

Schizophrenia is almost always a severe and disabling mental health disorder. Managing this condition is usually a lifelong process; however, with the right care and professional treatment, it is possible to live a healthy and fulfilling life with this disorder. 

If you know someone navigating this condition, you can offer support during this crucial time by helping them find professional treatment for schizophrenia.

Understanding Schizophrenia

Schizophrenia is a psychiatric condition that is characterized by a disruption in thought patterns, sensory perception, reactions to emotions, and connections with others.  Symptoms of this disorder usually appear during late adolescence or early adulthood, with the most common symptoms being hallucinations, delusions, and disordered thinking. These symptoms can have a major influence on every area of a person’s life.

Schizophrenia’s long-term effects can vary depending on factors such as your loved one’s treatment plan, medication management, when they started treatment, and overall health. Some common long-term effects of schizophrenia include: 

  • Reduced emotional expression
  • Less motivation to accomplish goals
  • Difficulty with social relationships
  • Motor and cognitive impairment

Myths about Schizophrenia

While this disorder can be complicated, there are a few things that schizophrenia is not

Myth #1: People with schizophrenia are violent and dangerous. Inherently, people with schizophrenia are not violent. They are actually 14 times more likely to be victimized compared to being the perpetrator.

Myth #2: Schizophrenia is directly caused by a bad childhood or a traumatic event. Schizophrenia is believed to be caused by a combination of genetic, environmental, and neurological factors. It’s a complex interplay of various factors. Parenting style or a single traumatic event does not cause schizophrenia. 

Myth #3: Schizophrenia is untreatable. While there is no cure for schizophrenia, it is a treatable condition. Antipsychotic medications, therapy, and psychosocial interventions can help manage this condition.

Myth #4: People with schizophrenia can’t work or lead meaningful lives. With proper treatment, support, and management, many people with schizophrenia can have fulfilling lives, maintain jobs, and have meaningful relationships. 

Educating Yourself

Schizophrenia is a very complex condition. The more you know about the disorder, and what your loved one is going through, the better equipped you both are to navigate it.

Doing your own research and talking to a medical professional who’s knowledgeable about schizophrenia ensures that you have a well-rounded understanding of the disorder. Reading up on the condition can provide you with a basic understanding of the symptoms, treatments, and potential risks associated with the illness. And speaking with a doctor can provide you with personalized insights and information. Doing both of these can ensure that you are as informed as possible.

Professional Help for Schizophrenia

In all cases, people with schizophrenia need professional help. And the earlier they get treatment, the better chance they have to live a fulfilling life. You can help them find appropriate resources, make appointments, or go with them to appointments if they are okay with that. 

Contact a mental health professional, like a psychiatrist, psychologist, or therapist, to develop a treatment plan. If you are having trouble finding an available professional, go to your primary care physician first. They will be able to refer you to the appropriate person. 

From here, incorporating therapy into their routine will be key. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), family therapy, and social and life skills training can help your loved one learn coping strategies, manage symptoms, and improve social skills. They’ll learn new ways of thinking about and managing their hallucinations and delusions.

Medication Management

Medication management is a cornerstone to treating schizophrenia. Your loved one will be prescribed antipsychotic medication. There are 2 groups of antipsychotics—first-generation, or “typical,” and second-generation, or “atypical.” These both affect the dopamine receptors in the brain, and second-generation also affect the serotonin receptors. Talk to your doctor to see which medication is right for their needs. They may also need prescriptions to manage co-occurring disorders, like substance use or depression

Combining medication with therapeutic interventions can be very effective in keeping symptoms under control and providing a more fulfilling life. Your doctor should regularly check in to ensure that the medication is working properly and monitor for any potential side effects. If you notice the medications have adverse side effects, or making schizophrenia symptoms worse, seek help from a medical professional right away. 

Navigating Crisis Situations

When someone with schizophrenia is in crisis, it’s crucial to recognize the warning signs to ensure their safety and well-being. Schizophrenia is a severe mental illness that could result in the person harming themselves or someone else. Seek professional help promptly if you see your loved one experiencing these signs:

  • Symptoms suddenly get worse
  • Social withdrawal
  • Intense paranoia
  • Resistance to treatment or medications
  • Decline in personal hygiene

If you believe the person is in immediate danger, do not leave them alone. Try to keep them in a safe, controlled environment. With a professional, develop a crisis management plan that outlines steps they can take when they experience elevated hallucinations or delusions. Include emergency contacts, coping strategies, and resources they can turn to for support.

Your Role in Their Recovery

Supporting someone with schizophrenia requires patience, understanding, and a compassionate approach. Your loved one will likely need some guidance, at least in the beginning of their recovery journey. But with your help, they can live a full, rewarding life.

Supporting Daily Living

A key element of your loved one’s treatment plan will be creating a structured routine. Help them build a daily schedule that includes regular meal times, medication management, and designated relaxation or leisure activities. Encourage healthy habits, such as proper nutrition and exercise. Offer to join them in this healthy lifestyle to keep them motivated. 

You can also help them maintain connections with friends, family, and support groups. Social activities can keep them from isolating and the negative effects that has on their mood.

Run through their crisis management plan regularly. Be sure that they have all the tools and skills to successfully navigate difficult symptoms, especially if you’re not there to support them in the moment.

Managing Symptoms and Challenges

Outside of therapy and medication, your loved one will also learn and practice coping skills for their symptoms. They should primarily be aware of the places, people, and things that trigger their hallucinations or delusions. They can, at first, avoid these stimuli and later work through their triggering effects. If symptoms do arise, they can manage them in a few ways:

  • Reality Testing: They can remind themselves that the hallucination is not real. Challenge the experience by asking, “Is there any evidence that supports this?”
  • Distraction: Reading, drawing, or doing puzzles, helps shift focus away from hallucinations.
  • Grounding Techniques: Your loved one can describe what they see, touch, hear, smell, and taste to help ground themselves in reality.
  • Positive Self-Talk: They can repeat affirmations or calming statements to counteract hallucinations’ negative or distressing messages.

While you can be an anchor during hard moments, make sure your loved one has consistent help and direct contact with a professional.

Patience and Empathy

Talking to someone with schizophrenia allows you to show empathy, patience, and understanding. Ask them how they feel or what they’re experiencing to show that you genuinely care and want to listen. Ensure they know you’re there for them and that they don’t have to go through this alone. And celebrate small achievements along the way because recovery is more fun when you give yourself credit for all the work you’re putting in. 

Their progress might be gradual, so show your loved one, and yourself, compassion. Be sure to prioritize your own well-being. While this process can be rewarding, taking time for yourself is important. Lean on friends and family for support.
There is hope for the person in your life who has schizophrenia. With a little guidance, and professional schizophrenia treatment, they can unlock the door to a fulfilling life.

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