The support of friends and family plays an integral role in the treatment of schizophrenia. Although it’s natural for caretakers to experience stress, frustration, and feelings of helplessness when caring for someone with schizophrenia, providing support with medical care, coping skills, and life skills can assist with recovery.

It’s essential for caregivers to learn about and understand the illness. Schizophrenia includes a wide range of symptoms and behaviors. Learning about the constellation of symptoms and how those symptoms impact the person with schizophrenia enables caregivers to find appropriate help.

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Symptoms of schizophrenia

A) Two or more of the following for at least a one-month (or longer) period of time, and at least one of them must be 1, 2, or 3:

  • Delusions
  • Hallucinations
  • Disorganized speech
  • Grossly disorganized or catatonic behavior
  • Negative symptoms, such as diminished emotional expression.

B) Impairment in one of the major areas of functioning for a significant period of time since the onset of the disturbance: Work, interpersonal relations, or self-care.

C) Some signs of the disorder must last for a continuous period of at least 6 months. This six-month period must include at least one month of symptoms (or less if treated) that meet criterion A (active-phase symptoms) and may include periods of residual symptoms. During residual periods, only negative symptoms may be present.

D) Schizoaffective disorder and bipolar or depressive disorder with psychotic features have been ruled out:

  • No major depressive or manic episodes occurred concurrently with active phase symptoms
  • If mood episodes (depressive or manic) have occurred during active phase symptoms, they have been present for a minority of the total duration of the active and residual phases of the illness.

E) The disturbance is not caused by the effects of a substance or another medical condition.

F) If there is a history of autism spectrum disorder or a communication disorder (childhood onset), the diagnosis of schizophrenia is only made if prominent delusions or hallucinations, along with other symptoms, are present for at least one month

Additional symptoms that contribute to a diagnosis of schizophrenia include:

  • Inappropriate affect (laughing in the absence of a stimulus)
  • Disturbed sleep pattern
  • Dysphoric mood (can be depression, anxiety, or anger)
  • Anxiety and phobias
  • Depersonalization (detachment or feeling of disconnect from self)
  • Derealization (a feeling that surroundings aren’t real)
  • Cognitive deficits impacting language, processing, executive function, and/or memory
  • Lack of insight into disorder
  • Social cognition deficits
  • Hostility and aggression

Once you understand the disease, you can help your loved one find appropriate treatment options. Keep in mind that your loved one will likely need support scheduling and getting to and from appointments, filling medications, and with medication management.

Provide treatment options

Many people with schizophrenia benefit from medication, but medication alone is not enough to treat schizophrenia. Discuss various treatment options with your loved one to work toward recovery.

  • Medication management
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for stress management
  • Group therapy for support and to build a social network
  • Life skills training to work toward independence and rejoining the workforce
  • Social skills training to help cope with symptoms that impact social interactions and relationship building

Encourage self-help strategies

The daily stress of living with schizophrenia can be challenging. Stress can also exacerbate symptoms of the disease. It is imperative for people with schizophrenia to practice self-help skills to manage symptoms.

  • Relaxation techniques including mindfulness, deep breathing, and progressive muscle relaxation
  • Daily exercise
  • Maintain a healthy, balanced diet
  • Refrain from alcohol and drugs
  • Seek social support other than immediate caregivers

Self-help for caregivers

 To support someone with schizophrenia, caregivers need to build their own support networks. Caring for someone with schizophrenia can be emotionally draining and physically exhausting. The more support you have in place, the better the outcome for your loved one.

  • Know your limits – Set realistic expectations about how much support you can provide
  • Seek out resources – Ask your loved one’s doctor or caseworker for referrals for respite services and other sources of local support. Something as simple as rides to and from appointments can provide relief to caregivers.
  • Join a support group to share your emotions and seek support from others who understand what you’re going through.
  • Practice your own self-care strategies: Relaxation strategies, healthy eating, exercise, time spent with friends, and taking care of your own health are all important for caregivers.

Prepare for crisis

Even when treatment is ongoing, there is the potential for relapse. If your loved one’s condition deteriorates rapidly, hospitalization might be necessary. It helps to have an emergency plan for a psychotic episode. When creating your emergency plan, include the following:

  • The name and number of the physician treating the patient
  • The name and number of the therapist treating the patient
  • The name, address, and phone number of the hospital you will go to for psychiatric admission
  • The names and numbers of friends or family members on call to handle child care of any other children in the home in an emergency

Discuss the emergency care plan with your loved one often. A crisis will feel less threatening if the person with schizophrenia knows what to expect.

Create a predictable environment

Creating a routine is helpful to both the caregiver and the person living with schizophrenia. With consistent support and predictable and realistic routines in place, both the caregivers and the patients know what to expect and how to seek additional help when necessary.




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Last Updated: Feb 13, 2018