Dealing with Family Members who have Schizophrenia
As a family member of someone who has schizophrenia, the caregivers might struggle with a plethora of emotions, fears, guilt, anger, frustration and hopelessness. It is difficult to accept the illness. And it is equally difficult to separate the illness from the sufferer. Family members are often worried about the stigma of schizophrenia or confused and embarrassed by strange behaviors you don’t understand. As a caregiver, you need to understand that it is important to accept the illness and its difficulties and be realistic in what you expect of the person with schizophrenia and of yourself.
Following suggestions can be followed in order to achieve a better quality of life while living with a person with schizophrenia:
- Educate yourself: Learning about schizophrenia and its treatment will allow you to make informed decisions about how best to manage the illness, work toward recovery, and handle setbacks.
- Reduce stress: Stress can cause schizophrenia symptoms to flare up, so it’s important to create a structured and supportive environment for your family member. Avoid putting pressure on your loved one or criticizing perceived shortcomings.
- Set realistic expectations: It’s important to be realistic about the challenges and limitations of schizophrenia. Help your loved one set and achieve manageable goals, and be patient with the pace of recovery.
- Make time for yourself: Schedule time into your day for things you enjoy, whether it be spending time in nature, visiting with friends, or reading a good book. Taking breaks from caregiving will help you stay positive and avoid burnout.
- Look after your health: Neglecting your health only adds to the stress in your life. Maintain your physical well-being by getting enough sleep, exercising regularly, eating a balanced diet, and staying on top of any medical conditions.
- Cultivate other relationships: It’s important to maintain other supportive, fulfilling relationships. Don’t feel guilty for looking after your social needs. You need support, too. These relationships will help buoy you in difficult times.
- Practice acceptance: The “why me?” mindset is destructive. Instead of dwelling on the unfairness or life, accept your feelings (even the negative ones). Your burdens don’t have to define your life unless you obsess about them.
- Seek out joy: Taking out time for fun is a necessity. It isn’t the people who have the least problems who are the happiest, it’s the people who learn to find joy in life despite adversity.
- Recognize your own limits: Be realistic about the level of support and care you can provide. You can’t do it all, and you won’t be much help to a loved one if you’re run down and emotionally exhausted.
- Avoid blame: In order to cope with schizophrenia in a family member, it’s important to understand that although you can make a positive difference, you aren’t to blame for the illness or responsible for your loved one’s recovery.
- Provide options: Your loved one may be more willing to see a doctor if he or she can control the situation somewhat. If your relative appears suspicious of you, suggest another person to accompany him or her to the appointment. You can also give your family member a choice of doctors.
- Focus on a particular symptom: A person with schizophrenia may resist seeing a doctor out of fear of being judged or labeled “crazy.” You can make the doctor less threatening by suggesting a visit in order to deal with a specific symptom such as insomnia or a lack of energy.
- Seek help right away: Early intervention makes a difference in the course of schizophrenia, so don’t wait to get professional help. You family member will need assistance finding a good doctor and other effective treatments.
- Encourage independence: Rather than doing everything for your family member, encourage self-care and self-confidence. Help your loved one develop or relearn skills that will allow for greater independence of functioning.
- Be collaborative: It’s important that your loved one have a voice in his or her treatment. When your family member feels respected and acknowledged, he or she will be more motivated to follow through with treatment and work toward recovery.
- Take side effects seriously: Many people stop taking their schizophrenia medication because of side effects, so pay attention to your loved one’s drug complaints. Bring any distressing side effects to the attention of the doctor. The doctor may be able to reduce adverse effects by reducing the dose, switching to another antipsychotic, or adding another medication that targets the troublesome side effect.
- Encourage your loved one to take medication regularly:Even with side effects under control, some people with schizophrenia refuse medication or take it irregularly. This may be due to a lack of insight into their illness and the importance of medication, or they may simply have trouble remembering their daily dose. Medication calendars, weekly pillboxes, and timers can help people who are forgetful.
- Track your family member’s progress: You can help the doctor track treatment progress by documenting changes in your family member’s behavior, mood, and other symptoms in response to medication. A journal or diary is a good way to record medication history, side effects, and everyday details that might otherwise be forgotten.
Relapse can occur if the person is not taking medicines. However, learning to recognize early signs of relapse can help prevent crisis. The warning signs of relapse are often similar to the symptoms and behaviors that led up to the person’s first psychotic episode.
Common warning signs of schizophrenia relapse:
- Social withdrawal
- Deterioration of personal hygiene
- Increasing paranoia
- Confusing or nonsensical speech
- Strange disappearances
Despite your best efforts to prevent relapse, there may be times when your family member’s condition deteriorates rapidly and drastically. During a schizophrenia crisis, you must get help for your family member as soon as possible. Hospitalization may be required to keep your loved one safe. It’s also wise to go over the emergency plan with your family member. The crisis situation may be less frightening and upsetting to your loved one if he or she knows what to expect during an emergency.
Tips for handling your loved one during a schizophrenia crisis:
- Remember that you cannot reason with acute psychosis
- Remember that the person may be terrified by his/her own feelings of loss of control
- Do not express irritation or anger
- Do not shout
- Do not use sarcasm as a weapon
- Decrease distractions (turn off the TV, radio, etc.)
- Ask any casual visitors to leave—the fewer people the better
- Avoid direct continuous eye contact
- Avoid touching the person
- Sit down and ask the person to sit down also
For more help in dealing with family members who may have schizophrenia or other mental health needs; contact World Brain Center Hospital today.