Schizophrenia is one of the most commonly diagnosed mental health conditions worldwide. In the United States alone, 0.25%-0.64% of people either have or are suspected to have some form of the disease. The disturbed thinking and behavior this condition induces is a leading cause of homelessness, drug abuse, arrest and other negative life outcomes. People with uncontrolled schizophrenia usually have trouble holding a job, living independently or managing their daily lives and relationships with others. In this context, family support for schizophrenia patients is a crucial link in helping people manage their mental health and keep up a high quality of life despite their diagnosis.
What Is Schizophrenia?
Schizophrenia is a mental health and perception disorder that alters an individual’s ability to perceive and interact with reality. People with schizophrenia can show a range of symptoms, all in varying amounts of severity and frequency, but they tend to be disruptive and disturbing. Common symptoms of schizophrenia include:
- Hallucinations, which may be visual and/or auditory (seeing things/hearing voices)
- Delusional thinking and ideas of personal importance, greatness or persecution
- Inappropriate emotional responses to ordinary stimuli, such as laughing at sad news or becoming angry over seemingly trivial matters
- Loss of motivation and ease of distraction
- Diminished motor control
- Difficulty understanding, learning and recalling information
Schizophrenia is most common among males, and its typical onset period is during late adolescence to early adulthood. Once it sets in, the condition may get better or worse over the years, but it’s rare for people to experience one bout and then enjoy a lifetime of full remission. Rather, schizophrenia tends to come and go to varying degrees over the years, with symptoms improving for a time and then recurring. Stress, substance abuse and other lifestyle factors may play a role in triggering a relapse of schizophrenia, but just as often, it comes and goes without a clear explanation.
How Does Schizophrenia Affect People and Their Loved Ones?
Needless to say, the thinking and behavior of a person going through a bout with schizophrenia can be exceedingly difficult to deal with. This is true both for the person with schizophrenia and for their loved ones. Family members and friends may not understand what’s going on with the person they care for, which creates misunderstandings and may damage important family relationships. Consistent emotional disturbances, odd or unusual statements and actions and the frequent loss of jobs, loss of housing or even arrest all take a heavy toll on the people who are close to a person with schizophrenia.
During lucid bouts, when the person with schizophrenia is more aware of their condition and can perceive the difficulty others are having with the situation, they may become depressed or suicidal. Around 10% of people with schizophrenia commit suicide. The loss of a close loved one, which often happens suddenly, with little to no warning and at a young age, can be the final blow to many families after years or decades of struggle with schizophrenia.
Schizophrenia and Family Support
The role family members play in the life of a person with schizophrenia is arguably the single most important factor in their quality of life. Because of the way schizophrenia affects a person’s self-image and ability to understand the world around them, family members of people with schizophrenia are a crucial link in identifying the signs of the disease in a loved one, who may or may not be able to perceive the problem for themselves. Family members also lend a direct hand in getting a person with schizophrenia into treatment, monitoring their living conditions going forward and helping them seek treatment whenever a relapse threatens. Families can also spread out the weight of care duties so no single member of the family ever feels overburdened and unable to lend their full support. For those dealing with a loved one in psychosis, family therapy can provide a valuable support network.
Identifying the Issue
The family’s ability to help people with schizophrenia probably begins with correct identification of the illness in the first place. People with psychosis-type disorders are characterized by the difficulty they have with understanding the world around them and processing information that might be obvious to others. Being surrounded by loving family members can make it more likely schizophrenia is recognized earlier.
Many psychiatrists approach schizophrenia treatment on the medical model, with various neuroleptic drugs being used to manage the symptoms of schizophrenia and help a person manage their remission. Thorazine was the first and most famous of these, along with Haldol and various others. These medications must be taken regularly, which may be difficult for a person with schizophrenia to manage. Family has a role here in helping people remember to continue with therapy for schizophrenia, as well as in spotting the signs that they’re falling behind.
Living with schizophrenia is emotionally draining, and it’s potentially very isolating as well. People with schizophrenia commonly feel like a burden to loved ones, and many of the hallucinations they experience are frightening or otherwise very difficult to deal with. The simple emotional support a vulnerable person gets from family members can make a world of difference to their mood, their ability to function and even the severity of their symptoms.
Creating a Stable and Supportive Living Environment
Chaos and emotional disturbances can contribute to bouts with schizophrenia. Having a safe, stable place to live, with clean surroundings and fresh food, are both very important and very difficult for people living with schizophrenia. Daily check-ins from family members can help a person with schizophrenia keep their living environment under control and add a lot to their emotional stability.
Daily Assistance With Work and School
People with schizophrenia often struggle to accomplish routine life goals, such as completing a degree or holding down a job. Family support, such as help studying or assistance with finding an understanding employer, can be invaluable for people with schizophrenia who want to live as normally as they can.
Advocacy and Direct Action on Behalf of Loved Ones With Schizophrenia
If a loved one has schizophrenia, you may have to struggle through a difficult adjustment period, and it’s important to remember to take care of your own mental and emotional health. The mental health counseling team at Restore Mental Health is here to help your whole family. Contact us for a free, confidential consultation about supporting your loved one.