Understanding, compassion, and self-care are key when you live with someone who has schizophrenia.
About 1% of people in the United States have some form of schizophrenia. When you live with someone who has the condition, you experience their symptoms — from paranoia to disorganized behavior — first-hand.
Those symptoms can be challenging to deal with for both of you. It’s important to learn ways to help your loved one manage their condition, but also find ways to enhance your own well-being and receive support.
Schizophrenia is a mental health condition that affects a person’s behaviors, thoughts, and feelings. The condition is characterized by psychosis, including delusions and hallucinations, which makes it hard for the person to distinguish between thoughts and reality.
The symptoms of schizophrenia include:
- delusions: false beliefs
- hallucinations: seeing or hearing things that aren’t there
- paranoia: thoughts that others may want to do you harm or are trying to control you
- disorganized behavior: moving or speaking in unusual ways, or not moving or speaking at all
Hallucinations can cause terror, which can be frightening for all involved, and it’s difficult to know how to respond when someone else is experiencing delusions or hallucinations.
Paranoid thoughts may lead them to suspect you or others around you of attempting to harm them, such as poisoning their food or controlling their thoughts.
Speech, movement, and cognitive difficulties can make communication difficult.
Any combination of these symptoms can affect sleeping and eating. The person may sleep too much (hypersomnia) or be unable to sleep (insomnia). They may eat large amounts of food or stop eating altogether.
It’s difficult to see a loved one facing these challenges and feeling unable to take away their pain. Ultimately, you aren’t able to solve all of their problems. You may, however, be able to provide some support, understanding, and practical support to help them through.
Remember that your loved one’s symptoms are not within their control. They likely feel as frustrated as you do. Schizophrenia is treatable with medication in most cases and there are various other ways to help keep the symptoms under control.
Living with someone with schizophrenia is challenging. Understanding and compassion are key for coping with the symptoms, helping your loved one, and looking after yourself.
1. Learn the signs and symptoms
Your loved one’s symptoms can become easier to deal with when you know what to expect. When you know the early signs of a psychotic episode you can help your loved one get support early.
Many resources can help you learn about the signs, symptoms, and complications of schizophrenia, including:
Recovery After an Initial Schizophrenia Episode (RAISE)individual and family support from the NIMH National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)schizophrenia resources
- National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) schizophrenia support page
- Psych Central’s schizophrenia resource hub
- Psych Central’s Inside Schizophrenia podcast
2. Know their treatment plan
When both of you know the treatment plan, including your loved one’s medication schedule, they are more likely to maintain their treatment.
Pillboxes and medication calendars can be useful if there are several medications, or if either of you has difficulty remembering the schedule.
It also helps to know the medication side effects to watch out for so that you or your loved one can inform their psychiatrist and request medication changes as needed.
Note, too, that some schizophrenia medications need to be taken with food. If one of the side effects of the medication is sensitivity to sunlight, the person needs to ensure their skin is well protected from the sun.
3. Help them maintain a wellness routine
You can provide practical support by helping your loved one to maintain a consistent routine, such as:
- help them get a good night’s sleep by talking with them about good sleep hygiene
- encourage them to eat nutritious food regularly
- help them get regular exercise, such as offering to do some fun exercise with them
These things won’t completely remove schizophrenia symptoms, but keeping healthy in these ways can make the symptoms easier to deal with.
4. Join a support group
Living with and caring for someone with schizophrenia can take a toll on you. It’s important to practice self-care and find support among others experiencing a similar situation.
You can join a support group in person or online.:
- NAMI offers peer-led support groups for family and friends of people with mental health conditions, such as schizophrenia.
- Schizophrenia and Psychosis Support and CrazyBoards offer ways to get together with people in similar situations and share their experiences.
5. Engage in your own life
Keeping up with your own life — such as engaging in hobbies or spending time with friends — can help you avoid burnout and look after your own emotional well-being. This could involve anything that is not solely focused on looking after the person with schizophrenia. This may require additional practical support to ensure the safety and well-being of your loved one.
Here are some things you might want to avoid doing when living with or caring for someone with schizophrenia.
1. Avoid reasoning away delusions
It’s usually not useful to try and bring someone out of a delusion by telling them it’s not true or that they’re mistaken. Delusions aren’t something that you can reason away. Similarly, it doesn’t help to tell someone that their hallucinations aren’t real or that they can’t harm anyone.
2. Try not to physically stop substance use
Smoking, alcohol, and drug use may seem to help a person’s symptoms, but they can worsen their overall mental state. That said, it is ultimately the person’s choice whether they use substances or not.
While you may be unable to stop a person from using substances, you might remind them of the consequences, such as physical health complications. Also, be mindful that many schizophrenia medications can have harmful side effects when taken with alcohol.
3. Avoid adjusting their medication
If you or your loved one suspect that their schizophrenia medication is causing side effects, it’s best to discuss this with a psychiatrist. Adjusting dosages or stopping treatment without supervision can have harmful effects. A psychiatrist can advise on safe alternatives and safe methods of tapering off existing medications.
4. Avoid stigma
A diagnosis of schizophrenia carries a heavy stigma. You can avoid perpetuating this stigma by reminding your loved one that it’s not their fault that they experience schizophrenia symptoms, and that their condition is manageable with treatment.
5. Avoiding talking about symptoms
Try not to stop a person with schizophrenia from talking about the symptoms and issues they experience.
If you open up a safe space for them to talk about their symptoms, they can let you know if they feel the symptoms are worsening or changing. Talking openly and safely about schizophrenia can also help reduce stigma.
Schizophrenia comes with challenges, but with the right treatment and support, people can often manage their symptoms and improve their quality of life.
Knowing your loved one’s treatment plan, recognizing their symptoms, encouraging a wellness routine, and taking care of yourself are some ways you can improve your situation.
Caregiver stress is common in people who live with others who have mental health conditions. If you’re having a difficult time caring for your loved one, there’s support available.
If you’re looking for a therapist but aren’t sure where to start, consider checking out Psych Central’s How to Find Mental Health Support resource.