Help Determining if My Cousin Is Schizophrenic

By Kristina Randle, Ph.D., LCSW

My cousin is a 56 year old who has been divorced twice. Had a few long and serious relationships, maybe lasting at the most 2/3 years. Is currently living alone. She has most recently become unemployed, a large source of stress for her, as her job is not one easily obtained. It is my understandIng that she was very isolated I her house and when she did talk to her friends she appeared to be crying uncontrollably or very sad.Most recently she has had delusions that some of her close friends placed magnets in her and that these devices correspond to a national data base for law offenders. And that she had been sexually violated. A police report was made. I went to visit her out of concern and she was not the same person. She seemed fragile, timid and skeptical-she was convinced of her allegations. I went to visit her before I was to leave the state and she was acting completely normal again, like her old self. Additionally she had a new “friend,” someone whom none of our other cousins/her friends have ever met. She has always been a little skeptical of others and I do remember her worrying about food being poisoned by an brother in law. Can someone please help me understand this ? What can I do to help her?

A. You have described your cousin as someone who has difficulty maintaining relationships, might be a loner, is sad, experiences delusions (though it’s unclear how often they occur), is paranoid, and might be hallucinating. It’s impossible to diagnose her over the Internet, but given her symptoms it’s plausible to believe that she might have schizophrenia or a related psychotic disorder.

Mental health disorders are determined using the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Health Disorders. This manual provides specific criteria that must be met in order for a diagnosis to be given.

I suspect that you are less interested in gaining a technical diagnosis for your cousin and are more concerned with how to help her, given her symptoms.

You can encourage her to seek mental health treatment, adhere to her prescribed treatment regimen and provide social and emotional support.

For instance, if she were frightened about her belief that magnets have been placed in her body, the proper response might include: “It must be very frightening to think that your close friends are placing magnets in your body. Is there anything I can do to help?”

Don’t attempt to debate whether or not her delusion is true. Try to respond to her feelings and reinforce the idea that she is safe with you.

It’s also best to remain calm when interacting with her. Stress could intensify her symptoms. By remaining calm, it will reinforce the idea that she is safe.

If she attempts to discuss her delusions or hallucinations, try changing the subject to shift the focus onto something less stressful. Focusing on them might make her feel more frightened.

You might be interested in the book I Am Not Sick, I Don’t Need Help by Dr. Xavier Amador. He provides suggestions for interacting with individuals with psychosis. It might give you some ideas about how to interact with your cousin. Please take care.

Dr. Kristina Randle

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 22 Jul 2014

APA Reference
Randle, K. (2014). Help Determining if My Cousin Is Schizophrenic. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 23, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2014/07/22/help-determining-if-my-cousin-is-schizophrenic/

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