10 Tips for Supporting a Family Member with Schizophrenia
One of the most challenging, frustrating aspects of schizophrenia derives from a lack of knowledge and understanding. The more you learn, the easier it becomes to understand what is happening and why. On this website, you could start with an introduction to schizophrenia. Then look at the What You Should Know article, which explains causes & the symptoms of schizophrenia.
The fact that your son or daughter has schizophrenia can tap into deep-rooted concerns and beliefs. For example, some people believe it is a punishment from God, while others may blame themselves or a spouse for a perceived weakness in the family line. The fact is blame of any sort is completely ill-founded. Blame is a negative and eroding emotion that achieves nothing.
Whenever the spotlight of unwelcome attention falls on us we feel uncomfortable, worried, irritated and unsettled. Most people aren't educated on schizophrenia and are likely to feel anxious, apprehensive and even worried about their safety. So what do you do? Feel ashamed and apologetic, or reassure and educate? If we all adopt the second option we can make a positive impression.
Amongst the turmoil of diagnosis, unfamiliar behavior, hospitalization, changes in medication, reactions from others and personal concerns, there remains a person in your life with a need for love and compassion. This same person is possibly experiencing a level of turmoil that most of us can't even imagine. At the end of the day they are a person with an illness.
When taking on the role of caregiver it's all too easy to see this as your role. The person you give support to knows as much about their future as you. They may recover. They may gradually get worse. They may dip in and out of psychosis for years. The person may be confused so the structure around them needs to be stable.
This isn't just about physical space it's also about emotional space. Schizophrenia may limit capabilities but it doesn't mean you should take over the person's life. Equally, there is nothing to be gained from criticism, shouting, use of threats, or assuming an air of authority or superiority.
If we accept the rights of an individual we also need to consider their responsibilities. Certain things are simply unacceptable and other things require feedback and some expectation that things will improve. Violence is one example, but matters of personal hygiene, sexual behaviors, use of medication, are just a few examples where boundaries may need to be set.
We all have needs but the role of caregiver is one that can easily come to dominate your life. It is important to maintain your links with friends, family, hobbies and interests. A structured and involving life is important for everyone and while you may need to modify your needs from time to time, this is not the same as shutting down your life completely.
Nobody can take away from you the years of commitment you have given or are about to give. You have experienced, or you will experience, a huge range of emotions. Your emotional journey is part of a process that will hopefully lead to compassion and greater understanding. If you allow your mind to fill with gloomy thoughts, anger, frustration and resentment, it quickly becomes exhausting and your own mental health will suffer as a result.
There are many different places to seek or offer help and support. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) provides extensive information on their Find Support page. NAMI also offer a free 12 week Family to Family education program. The National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH) also has information, tips, and advice.