Support for a Loved One

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So what can I do to help a loved one with schizophrenia?

·        Suicide is always a concern with someone who has schizophrenia.  Be open to communication and alert to changes in behavior.

·        Encourage social outings/activities.  The disease’s impact on motivation and social skills makes it easy for people with schizophrenia to become isolated, lonely and depressed.

·        Watch for signs of unusual thirst.  People with schizophrenia are prone to developing ‘disordered water balance’ which is a fancy term for drinking so much water it dilutes the body.  This can be fatal.

·        Encourage self care activities like bathing, brushing teeth, etc.  Make a chart for them to follow on a daily basis, like chore charts used for children.

·        Encourage them to take their medication and report any side effects that make them consider stopping it.  The doctor needs to know in order to tailor the medication better.

·        Many of the medications to treat schizophrenia cause weight gain.  Encouraging activities like walking, riding a bike, jogging, swimming can all help ensure appropriate body weight.  If you go along, it also provides another opportunity for talking and socializing.

·        If the person seems oblivious to the weather, gently direct them to more appropriate clothing.  Suggest a winter coat if it’s cold, or a T-shirt if it’s hot.

·        Often, what is being said by a person with schizophrenia can be a clue as to how they are feeling.  Don’t ignore the fact they hear voices or see things.  Acknowledge you know they hear/see something but that you don’t hear/see it.  Ask them what they hear or see.  Stating the obvious can help a lot.  If they seem afraid, say, “you seem frightened; can you tell me what you hear?”  This allows them to address their problems while feeling emotionally safe to do so.  The common underlying feelings experienced by people with schizophrenia are fear, anxiety, powerlessness, hopelessness, suspicion and the feeling others are laughing at them.  Just knowing this can help you understand their behavior better.

·        Offer choices (simple ones, like do you want the blue shirt or the red shirt?) to foster independence, and instill a sense of control over one’s life.

·        Finally, be supportive.  This is a difficult diagnosis for the individual and the family.  Research has found that people who have schizophrenia and have supportive friends or family live longer, do better, and have fewer relapses than those who don’t.