Author: Norah Aldawsari, M.S.
Schizophrenia is a serious mental health disorder that negatively affects one’s cognitive, emotional, and social functions. Individuals with schizophrenia may experience hearing voices, seeing objects or people, smelling, or feeling sensations. They may also have false beliefs that are extremely distorted, called delusions, that have no basis in reality or in one’s culture. They may experience disorganized thoughts and speech, making it hard to communicate. For example, they may jump from one topic to another, use thoughts and ideas that seem unreal, and answer questions in ways that are confusing to others. They may display disorganized behavior, such as awkward or excessive repetitive movements and rigid body posture, affecting their family and loved ones.
Schizophrenia affects parts of the brain that are responsible for cognitive functioning, such as memory, attention, concentration, reasoning, information processing, planning, organizing, and verbal and nonverbal expression. Individuals with schizophrenia may experience a lack of motivation and energy, social withdrawal, decreased or no emotional expression, and reduced verbal communication. Thus, such symptoms and deficits can interrupt one’s ability to function and cause significant serious issues preventing individuals from enjoying their lives.
Managing the symptoms of schizophrenia could be challenging if there is lack of support and knowledge. Family members play a significant role in overcoming such challenges associated with experiencing schizophrenia. Family members are considered the front line to recognize symptoms, provide practical and emotional support, communicate with professionals and be part of the treatment plan, encourage their loved ones to comply with their treatment, and help them access clinics and facilities.
Here are some tips for families of loved ones with schizophrenia:
- Educate yourself about schizophrenia and its symptoms.
- Provide structure, routine, and meaning to reduce isolation and increase motivation.
- Plan for exciting and enjoyable activities, for example, listening to music, playing with pets, or working out.
- Help them to take their medication as prescribed, for example, using a pills organizer.
- Limit the presence of alcohol in the house and use of drugs.
- Help them to attend their appointments and show them your love and support.
- Help your loved ones to maintain healthy self-care, positive coping skills, and active lifestyle.
- Focus on the individuals’ strengths and praise their small successes and attempts.
Some individuals with schizophrenia may experience crises because of their hallucinations, paranoia, or delusions.Here are some recommendations that could be helpful during a crisis.
- Do not try to argue or criticize with what they say, hear, and see. Be supportive and understanding, as what they hear and see may be true in their head.
- Do not challenge their delusions.
- Minimize any distractions and stimulation that could intensify their distress.
- Do not yell or shout at them – they may feel unsafe and this may increase their paranoia.
- Encourage them to engage in enjoyable activities, such as walking, taking a shower, drawing, dancing, listening to music and accompany them if needed.
- Allow them to have personal and physical space, if needed.
- Do not give a lot of instructions and information at once. Speak slowly and clearly with short, simple questions.
- Invite them to sit down and talk about distressing feelings or thoughts.
Being diagnosed with schizophrenia can have significant impacts not only on the individual but also their family members. Changing roles and having more responsibilities can cause stress and burnout for the family. Family members may have to change their schedule, take time and days off, and ensure their loved one with schizophrenia is safe and compliant with their treatment.
Here are some tips that can help families to cope with stress and confusion:
- Join a support group for families and friends who have similar experiences.
- Make an appointment with a social worker or a mental health professional on how you can help your loved one.
- Educate yourself about the medication and its side effects and learning the early signs for any crisis.
- Attend a psychoeducational course to learn more about schizophrenia and treatments that are helpful, including:
- Culturally Informed Therapy for Schizophrenia: A Family-Focused Cognitive-Behavioral Approach, Clinician Guide
- Cognitive Adaption Training and Environmental Support
- Advocate on behalf of your friend and family members and provide the valuable help you can add to the treatment.
- Have a schedule to help plan and prioritize your tasks and responsibilities.
- Allow others to help and ask for help from others.
- Do not forget to take care of yourself.
For more information, please visit:
Center for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH). (n.d.). Cognitive adaption training. https://www.porticonetwork.ca/web/schizophrenia-family-strategies/understanding/cognitive-adaptation-training
Center for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH). (2017). Schizophrenia: An information guide. https://www.camh.ca/-/media/files/guides-and-publications/schizophrenia-guide-en.pdf
Kidd. S., Velligan, D. I., & Maples, N. J. Supporting a family member with schizophrenia: Practical strategies for daily living. (2017). Centre for Addiction and mental Health https://www.porticonetwork.ca/web/schizophrenia-family-strategies/understanding
National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). (March, 2015). Schizophrenia. https://www.nami.org/NAMI/media/NAMI-Media/Images/FactSheets/Schizophrenia-FS.pdf
Weisman de Mamani, A., McLaughlin, M., Altamirano, O., Lopez, D., & Ahmad, S. S. (2021). Culturally informed therapy for schizophrenia: A family-focused cognitive behavioral approach: Clinician guide. Oxford University Press. https://doi.org/10.1093/med-psych/9780197500644.001.0001