Schizophrenia is a chronic brain disorder that affects an estimated .25% – .64% of the adult population in the United States. It can be difficult to watch someone you care about live with the symptoms of this complex condition.
Understanding how to help someone with schizophrenia can be daunting. It might even feel overwhelming at first, but there are things you can do to support your loved one. Read on to learn how you can help a friend or family member who’s living with schizophrenia. We’re including specific, actionable tips that you can use right away. Helping someone with schizophrenia is possible, and we’re showing you how.
“Family support can be crucial for someone handling a schizophrenia diagnosis. It can be a daunting road to endure the diagnosis. If armored with some understanding and education around the diagnosis, family members or close social support can be the critical link between providers and the community necessary to maintain lifelong therapy and medication management.”Talkspace therapist Elizabeth Keohan, LCSW-C, MSW
1. Learn About Schizophrenia
Knowing how to help someone with schizophrenia involves, first and foremost, learning about this often misunderstood mental health condition.
Schizophrenia causes someone to be out of touch with reality. They can have disorganized thoughts or behaviors and often begin to withdraw from daily life. People with schizophrenia experience psychosis, the hallmarks of this condition. Delusional thinking (fixed beliefs that aren’t based in reality) and hallucinations (seeing and hearing voices that aren’t there) are symptoms of schizophrenia. They might also experience a loss of interest in ordinary activities.
As a result, some people with schizophrenia struggle with personal hygiene, self-care, holding a job, and maintaining interpersonal relationships.
This mental health condition has no known cure, which makes schizophrenia treatment and support from your community so crucial. When you learn to recognize the symptoms of schizophrenia, you’ll be better able to understand your loved one’s behavior, making it less confusing or frightening for you.
A person with schizophrenia might believe that:
- They have magical powers
- They’re a celebrity or a historical figure
- People are trying to harm them
- An unseen entity is manipulating their behavior
They can hear, see, or feel things that no one else can. For some people, schizophrenia is marked by problems concentrating, incoherent speech, or difficulty intelligently answering questions. They also can exhibit jerky motions and persistent restlessness or seem to have more than one personality. Becoming extremely upset for seemingly no reason is not uncommon.
Action tip: Keep learning about schizophrenia
Keep learning about how to deal with schizophrenia. If you hope to understand what your loved one is living with, don’t stop researching. When armed with knowledge, you’ll be empowered to show more compassion. You’ll also learn how to not be damaged in the process.
- You can learn more about schizophrenia through the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI)
2. Listen & Validate Their Experience
Understanding how to help someone with schizophrenia largely includes just listening to their experiences and validating their feelings. For many of us, this can be difficult. Knowing what to say or how to respond to someone’s delusions or hallucinations can be challenging, and that’s OK. It’s normal to not know what to say or do. Even though you might not know exactly how to respond, you can still validate their frustration, fear, confusion, or other emotions.
It’s important to remember, that despite not being able to hear or see what they’re explaining, their experiences are still very real.
“You don’t have to be a therapist to be therapeutic; the sole presence of a caring person can aid in navigating a complex diagnosis such as schizophrenia. It can be both isolating and difficult to understand new and changing symptoms, but feeling supported and heard can make all the difference in minimizing stress and barriers to healthy and proactive management.” –Talkspace therapist Elizabeth Keohan, LCSW-C, MSW
Action tip: Think about how you would feel
Be calm. When your loved one with schizophrenia is describing their experiences, stay in control of your reactions.
- If they’re sharing delusions or hallucinations, don’t react
- Don’t act like you hear, see, or feel what they do
- Recognize their feelings and beliefs
- Let them know you understand this is very real to them
3. Know What Not to Say and Do
How can you help someone with schizophrenia in the best way? You can have all the action plans in the world, but it’s just as important to know what not to say or do. You shouldn’t dismiss their experiences, but at the same time, you don’t want to feed into their behavior, either.
Action tip: Choose your words carefully
There are several things not to do when responding to or interacting with someone who has schizophrenia, including:
- Don’t be rude
- Don’t dismiss them or be unsupportive
- Don’t assume you understand their needs
- Don’t interrupt them
- Don’t threaten them or make them feel like you’re the enemy
- Don’t argue with or challenge them
- Don’t blame them
4. Encourage Them to Find & Stick to Treatment
If you want to know how to help someone who is schizophrenic, encourage their commitment to a treatment plan. Schizophrenia is a long-term condition with no cure. Routine support from mental health professionals will be key to successful symptom management.
Medication for schizophrenia is almost always necessary, especially when used in combination with therapy for schizophrenia. This treatment option can be useful in improving schizophrenia symptoms and decreasing frequency.
Common medications may include:
- Anti-anxiety medications
- Mood stabilizers
Consistent therapy is an integral component of schizophrenia treatment. Talk therapy helps people living with schizophrenia recognize the warning signs of pending psychotic episodes. This can empower them to proactively self-manage their schizophrenia symptoms.
Action tip: Support their treatment plan without criticism
You want to encourage your loved one to participate in therapy and adhere to medication protocols. However, you don’t want to make them feel helpless or criticized.
- Instead of saying, “Are you still going to your therapy sessions?”
- Consider saying, “Can I give you a ride to therapy today?”
- Instead of saying, “Have you taken your meds today?”
- Consider saying, “Should we set a medication reminder on your phone?”
“When a clear and thoughtful diagnosis has been made, treatment therapy and medication should be consistent and properly managed in order to keep any functional impairment low. Routine activities of daily living can also help impart some level of control in an individual’s and family’s life.”Talkspace therapist Elizabeth Keohan, LCSW-C, MSW
5. Support Them
Support is so important for people with schizophrenia. You can help your loved one in several ways. Offer to go to therapy with them, find access to community support, look for work, or enroll in college classes. Make sure they know you’re there and willing to help them with anything they need. If you’re unable to offer support, you might contact someone else who can.
Action tip: Know how to support them
Consider the following ways that you can support your loved one with schizophrenia:
- Find mutual hobbies you both enjoy, like gardening, listening to music, painting, doing yoga, or going for walks
- Encourage them to work on small tasks instead of focusing on overwhelming goals
- Help them set up their bedroom to encourage more restful sleep
- Suggest they stay physically fit and offer to work out with them
- Practice mindfulness meditation together
- Prepare and eat healthy meals together
6. Help Them Find a Stable Living Situation
Helping someone with schizophrenia sometimes involves finding housing options for them, especially in cases where the primary caregiver is elderly or if the living situation is causing excessive stress on intrapersonal relationships within the home.
In some cases, the only feasible housing option for someone with schizophrenia is a facility. While this can cause a lot of guilt, it’s important to remember that mental health care facilities exist exactly for this.
Action tip: Learn about different living options
Some options include:
- Residential treatment facilities
- 24-hour care homes
- Transitional group homes
- Foster homes
- Boarding homes
- Supervised apartments
Using these services doesn’t imply you’re giving up hope that your loved one will improve over time. It also doesn’t have to be a permanent decision. Moving back home if the situation improves is always an option and can be the ultimate goal.
7. Look Out for Warning Signs of a Relapse
Sometimes, learning how to help someone who is schizophrenic simply means being aware of the warning signs of relapse. While nobody ever wants to expect the worst-case scenario, you should be prepared for when and if your loved one relapses.
Action tip: Have an emergency plan in place
Having an emergency plan ready so everyone is safe is important. This plan should include things like:
- Symptoms of a schizophrenia episode
- Doctor, therapist, psychiatrist, and other professionals’ contact information
- Stress-relieving strategies like stretching, deep breathing, meditation prompts, quick physical activities
- Emergency contact numbers
- The first step they prefer to take for help, for example, contact their therapist or go to the ER
- List of all medications and other health information like any allergies
- The person they want to be responsible for taking care of pets, children, and financial matters if necessary (note, a Durable Power of Attorney can be useful)
8. Be Prepared to Handle a Crisis
If you’re looking for even more answers to the question: how can you help someone with schizophrenia, don’t overlook the power of being prepared to handle emergencies.
Together, when things are calm, you can ask your loved one what they want to do during a crisis. Ask them if they can identify what it’ll take to help them feel better. Give them the option to talk to you and describe what they want you to do.
You have to set limits. If your loved one ever talks about self-harm or any violent act, take the situation seriously. Nobody ever wants to make that 911 call, but sometimes when schizophrenia is involved, it might come to this. Be prepared.
Action tip: Know what to do during a crisis
Know that you may need to do the following when the next crisis occurs:
- Respect their space, don’t touch them, avoid making continuous eye contact
- Remember, they’re likely afraid, confused, and unable to maintain control
- Avoid sarcasm, joking around, or otherwise trying to lighten the situation
- Don’t try to reason with them while they’re experiencing psychosis
- Be mindful of your own breathing and try to avoid frustration or anger
- Ask others to leave
9. Give Yourself Care Too
One of the best ways of knowing how to help someone with schizophrenia actually involves things you can do for yourself. Helping someone with schizophrenia is important, and while it’s amazing that you want to be there for them, you also need to make sure you’re strong during the process.
Thus, it’s just as important to love and care for yourself. If you wear yourself down taking care of others in life, you might get to the point where you have so little left to give that you’re unable to be effective at all. Self-care is an essential tool that can help you manage stress and anxiety, ward off illness and fatigue, and be as strong as possible, both mentally and physically.
Action tip: Practice self-care
Self-care is powerful. When you take care of your own needs first, you can become the strongest version of yourself. Take time every day to do things for yourself.
You can practice self care by:
- Doing yoga
- Working out
- Keeping a gratitude journal
- Sleeping and eating well
- Doing things you enjoy
- Getting outdoors
- Taking vitamins
- Taking a mental health day
- Talking with a therapist
There are so many effective ways to learn how to help someone with schizophrenia. From educating yourself, to treating them with empathy and compassion, to helping them to find the best treatment option so they can best manage their symptoms, you can be a powerful advocate and source of strength for your loved one.
Schizophrenia is a particularly challenging condition to deal with, and it can end up taking an adverse toll on anyone who’s dealing with it. Prioritize your own well-being and your loved one’s, with the tips and tools we’ve provided here.
It’s not your place to carry all the burden of schizophrenia. It’s essential that you work with a mental health professional who you and your loved one trust for long-term symptom management. Talkspace is an online therapy platform that can provide you both with the help you need. At Talkspace, you can find a therapist to work with, and as a team, you can successfully overcome schizophrenia.