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My Advice on How to Support a Loved One With Schizophrenia

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As someone who has recovered from schizophrenia, I have a unique perspective on how to help others who struggle with schizophrenia.

Here are my personal insights on the topic:

Learn all about the illness and how to cope with schizophrenia. From my experience, families (very understandably) have a hard time coping when their loved ones are out of touch with reality and might be a danger to themselves or others.

From my experience, one of the main symptoms of schizophrenia is psychosis. People who are going through psychosis are going through a frightening experience.

Don’t take stuff personally. The afflicted might lash out at you … if they are in a psychotic state, they are out of touch with reality. Understand they are in a “dreamland” … try to be empathetic with them, do not argue; but make sure they get help in a controlled environment.

Have patience, empathy and faith that they will recover.

Have faith they can recover, but may not ever be quite the same.

Trauma can affect people in a way that destroys bridges … it is the way a brain physically copes with something it literally can’t cope with. Having people tell you the stuff you are seeing or hearing doesn’t exist and you are just “crazy,” considering you are seeing or hearing these things in a very realistic and tangible way … that in itself can be traumatic.

People who experience a psychotic episode might not necessarily be suffering post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but they may come out on the other side with PTSD.

Personally, I never really got quite back to my old self. Don’t get me wrong, I’m stable, but I’ve changed. The way I look at it, when a key neural-pathway breaks, it never grows back quite the same, but over time forms a new connection. In someone’s brain, that could permanently change that person’s personality, but that doesn’t mean they can’t come back to reality and stop being a threat.

A common stigma that is unfair to people with the illness is that someone who has recovered from a psychosis is still considered to be schizophrenic and a “danger to people,” even when the recovered person actually is 100 percent in reality and is not a danger to people.

Communication can be problematic, so patience and empathy are key.

For a moderate amount of time at the onset, I completely lost my short-term memory, although my long-term memory was just fine! Due to losing my short-term memory, I couldn’t carry on a conversation long enough to remember what I was talking about. It was terribly frustrating. But I remember all the stuff I was thinking at the time, and am very humiliated to even think about it!

After the frustration of being unable to get through a sentence, the way I coped was to begin to communicate more with intuitive feelings as opposed to my thoughts, by-passing the “filter” process. This resulted in me blurting stuff out and interrupting people. I felt bad doing this because it made me come across as rude and argumentative … but I knew it was the only way I could get and message across.

During this time of problematic communication and being lost in “dreamland,” a lot of people stopped being my friend, and very few stayed in touch to see how I was doing. I appreciate those who did stay in touch; these people make me feel like a more valuable individual, worthy of love.

People with schizophrenia may seem “not there,” but in reality, they are.

A person in psychosis has not “gone out of their mind.” They struggle with communication, or perhaps can’t quite access themselves, and are misunderstanding what is actually going around them. Think about a dream state –this is an example of living in a dream, or perhaps with one foot in dreamland and one foot in the real world. That’s a psychosis, a disconnection with reality.

Show them you’ll be there for them.

Even if you have to distance yourself for their sake, stay in touch with family or caregivers. Certainly, your friend needs to know you are concerned, and they will find comfort in that. To have schizophrenia can be a frightening experience, and to feel abandoned on top of that compounds the trauma.

So make attempts to rebuild bridges, as you can. They may not be in reality right now, but in reality, they really do need you, very much.

With help, they will recover. Please keep faith.

With “best practices” in place in the mental health system, in families, and the community at large up, recovery is possible. ” Recovered” means being well enough to hold jobs, drive, take good care of themselves and loved ones, have a social life, set and achieve goals, etc.

It takes time, treatment, medication, patience and understanding from loved ones to recover. To heal, those who struggle must accept their diagnosis, keep taking their medication, understand their symptoms and consciously keep positive symptoms in check. When it comes to recovery, hope changes everything!

What people don’t understand, they fear. Many people with schizophrenia never have another psychotic episode after the first one, and live in reality with as much stability as anyone else. Yet people fear them. People define even recovered individuals as “schizophrenics” and consider them dangerous, when in fact the opposite is true. Labels and generalizations are untrue and make the traumatic illness that much harder for to cope with.

Educate yourself. Believe they will recover. Know they are “there.” Exercise empathy and support. Protect yourself; get your loved one psychiatric help if they are a danger to anyone. If you are keeping your distance, stay in touch with care providers and/or family to follow their recovery.

Your diligence in this is more important than you realize.

This story originally appeared on Growth Paths.

Getty image via angel_nt.

Originally published: February 7, 2020
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