Schizophrenia & How To Support Someone Suffering From It
Schizophrenia is among one of the most misunderstood mental health disorders. It’s hard to imagine being dismissed from a job for an illness such as diabetes but the sad truth is even though schizophrenia is treatable and can be kept under control, sufferers are often stigmatized and discriminated against. Educating ourselves on this mental illness is essential because it is surprisingly common, and everyone deserves to live a normal life without constant judgement. It is especially important because people with symptoms should feel that they can get help and not be ashamed.
Due to misleading media portrayals, those living with schizophrenia are often perceived as untreatable, violent threats to society. A survey conducted by the National Alliance on Mental Illness found 64% believe that schizophrenia is the same as having split personalities.
Schizophrenia is a type of mental disorder that can disrupt a person's sense of self, perception, and language. In many cases, it also includes delusions, hearing voices, or other psychotic experiences. Schizophrenia can also hinder a person's ability to function by disrupting their studies or causing them to lose the skill that helped them make a living.
Schizophrenia is one of the world’s top 10 causes of disability. Experts estimate that almost 1.2% of the U.S population suffers from schizophrenia and there are 51 million schizophrenia sufferers worldwide. It is challenging to get exact statistics for schizophrenia because of the illness itself. Many patients don't receive treatment and instead sadly end up homeless or struggling. In fact, the majority of the 3.2 million Americans suffering from schizophrenia don't receive any treatment. This is concerning since treatment is necessary to take care of severe symptoms, prevent psychotic episode relapses, and help people live normal, full lives. Schizophrenia is not a hopeless condition. Partial or full recovery is possible in many patients. A combination of early prevention, uninterrupted medication, psychosocial rehabilitation, family and peer support, can help with overcoming symptoms, preventing relapses (which can cause brain tissue loss), and reclaiming back lives. With comprehensive treatment, people living with schizophrenia can achieve their life goals, and regain functioning in the three major domains of life - work, play and love.
How can you support someone with schizophrenia?
We must not forget that individuals with schizophrenia, or another mental illness, are real people. It could be the guy on reception, the woman in the grocery store line-up standing before you, or perhaps your neighbor’s son. Don’t underestimate the value of just being kind in your everyday encounters. Listen and try to be understanding. There are several things that family members and friends can do to help someone with schizophrenia, such as raising their own awareness, listening, guiding them toward treatment, and simply not being afraid to talk about it.
Encourage them to get treatment
Someone with schizophrenia may be unaware they need professional help, not know how to get it, or be physically unable to get themselves to places that offer help. Look out for signs and symptoms and have open conversations with the person afflicted.
Encourage them to follow their treatment plan
People who receive proper treatment for schizophrenia can live healthy, rewarding lives. Try to positively encourage people to be active in and committed to their treatment and recovery plan and remind them of the benefits of doing so.
Provide support if someone is having trouble following their treatment plan, such as offering to:
Help get them to appointments.
Remind them when to take medications or help them take them.
Help get prescriptions filled or get tools for therapy, rehab programs, etc.
Do healthy or stress-relieving activities with them, such as exercising.
Help them buy healthy foods or make balanced meals.
Depending on your relationship, it can also be very helpful to ask someone to share the details of their treatment plan (or accompany them to appointments) to make it easier to identify ways to help them follow the plan or recognize when they are having a hard time following it.
Know the early warning signs of schizophrenia
Learning about the early signs of schizophrenia can help people to identify when someone may be developing the condition before symptoms become severe.
Helping someone receive proper, early treatment during early psychosis can drastically improve the outlook. Most people develop gradual signs or symptoms of schizophrenia in mid-adolescence.
Early warning signs associated with schizophrenia include:
reduced self-care or hygiene
a sudden or severe drop in job performance or grades
problems thinking clearly or concentrating
new uneasiness with or suspicion of others
someone isolating themselves or spending a lot more time than normal alone
odd, bizarre, or strong, inappropriate emotions
appearing emotionally “flat” or “blank” and not showing feelings or emotions at all
reacting or responding to things that do not seem real
Ask how to help
The best way to help someone is to ask them what they need. In many cases, what is causing someone with schizophrenia distress or trouble may not be obvious. Actions that will be helpful will depend on the individual person and what exactly they are experiencing.
If someone does not want help, remember to be respectful of their wishes. Also, be sure not to try and do everything for someone, as it may reduce their feelings of autonomy and independence.
Every day, we gain a little more knowledge and get a little closer to bettering people's lives. More needs to be done still. Increasing public knowledge, and letting people know what options exist will only help.
If you or a loved one suffers from schizophrenia, find out if you qualify for a clinical trial.