How to help someone with schizophrenia

Naomi Carr
Author: Naomi Carr Medical Reviewer: Morgan Blair Last updated:

Schizophrenia is a mental health condition that can cause symptoms such as hallucinations, delusions, and disorganized thoughts. Providing care and support for a loved one with schizophrenia can be challenging, but there are various tips and techniques that you can utilize to help you in this process.

How to tell is a loved one has schizophrenia

There may be certain warning signs and symptoms that emerge in someone who is experiencing or developing schizophrenia. These warning signs may include [1][2]:

  • Social withdrawal
  • Change in sleep patterns
  • Change in appetite
  • Saying or thinking unusual things
  • Becoming suspicious of others
  • Decline in concentration
  • Decreased energy and motivation
  • Extreme changes in mood, such as agitation, aggression, anxiety, or distress

If you notice any of these signs, it may be that your loved one has schizophrenia, although some of these symptoms may also be present in other conditions.

How to help a loved one with schizophrenia

If you wish to help a loved one with schizophrenia, there are several ways you can provide support, including [1][2][3][4][5]:

Educate yourself

It can be useful to learn more about schizophrenia. Work on learning more about the different types of symptoms that can be present, how they can affect the individual, and how best to manage these symptoms.

By gaining a further understanding of the psychotic disorder, you will be better equipped to provide support to your loved one. You will learn about appropriate and helpful communication and management strategies. You will also understand more about the treatments that are available and how to access them.

Support them in seeking help

It can be difficult for someone who is unwell to seek professional help. They may be reluctant to get help due to the stigma that is associated with certain mental disorders or because they are unaware that they are unwell.

Supporting someone in seeking help for schizophrenia may involve discussing with them the available treatments, offering to attend a doctor’s appointment with them, or simply reminding them that you are there to be with them when they are ready to seek help.

Ask how you can help

It may be that your loved one is struggling with certain daily activities, such as shopping or cleaning, or they need help remembering appointments and medications. Ask them what you can do to help, so they can tell you what they need to make their daily life more manageable.

Encourage self-care

People with schizophrenia can often struggle with or forget about certain aspects of self-care, such as hygiene, eating meals, or taking medications, so it might be useful for them if you provide gentle encouragement or reminders to prompt them with these tasks.

Be careful not to overwhelm them with constant reminders. Instead, perhaps set a time each day that you will check in with them or help them set reminders on their calendar or phone.

Support without judgment

People with schizophrenia may speak or behave unusually, be convinced of beliefs that don’t seem real, or see things that are not there. If your loved one mentions or does something that seems bizarre, try not to express any judgment or question their beliefs, as these experiences will likely feel very real to them.

Rather than telling them they are wrong or trying to convince them of a different view, try to simply acknowledge their feelings. After you acknowledge their feelings, ask them if they want to tell you more about what they are experiencing, as discussing it may help them to feel more at ease.

Be calm and patient

It can be distressing and challenging to see someone you love experience symptoms of schizophrenia and to provide them with ongoing support. Supporting a loved one is likely to impact you in some way. However, it is important to try and be calm and patient with them, and to recognize that the road to recovery can be a long and challenging process.

Showing empathy and compassion can help to prevent them from becoming agitated or upset. In addition, it shows them that they are cared for and helps to build trust within your relationship.

Acknowledge the positives

Try to recognize and acknowledge positive actions that your loved one takes. Providing encouragement and praising their achievements can help to lift their mood, boost their self-esteem, and provide a positive focus, thereby helping to improve their schizophrenia symptoms.

Learn their triggers and warning signs

You should try to gain an understanding of your loved one’s triggers or the warning signs of a worsening in their condition. By understanding signs of a worsening condition, you can have a plan in place that can help them manage these situations if they occur. It may be useful to discuss this plan with your loved one and the mental health professionals involved in their care.

Part of this plan can include contact numbers of professionals in case of an emergency, such as if your loved one experiences a severe worsening in symptoms or if they are at risk of harming themselves or others.

Look after your own wellbeing

Caring for someone with schizophrenia can be emotionally and physically challenging, so it is important that you take steps to ensure that you are caring for your own wellbeing as well.

This might include taking time away from your loved one to have a break from providing care, attending groups with other people who have had similar experiences so you can receive advice and support, or attending therapy sessions to discuss any emotional distress that you have experienced.

What not to say to someone with schizophrenia

It can be difficult to always know how best to communicate with someone who has schizophrenia, but there are certain things to avoid saying, such as [1][3][4]:

  • ‘You’re just imagining that. It’s not real.’ Delusions and hallucinations can feel very real for someone who has schizophrenia, so denying or questioning their beliefs can result in them feeling confused, alienated, untrusting, or afraid.
  • ‘You’re unwell because you smoked cannabis/took drugs.’ Don’t blame their past actions for causing their illness, as this can create feelings of guilt and shame, result in them becoming upset or agitated.
  • Don’t give constant reminders for medication, appointments, or about other aspects of their illness. This could be frustrating or upsetting andmay create difficulties in communication and compliance. Have a plan for how you can provide reminders when necessary, so it doesn’t become overwhelming.
  • Don’t get angry if they miss an appointment or do something that might be detrimental to their treatment, as this can cause anger, resentment, and mistrust. Instead, ask them if there is something you can do to help them manage this circumstance and gently remind them that you want to support them in their recovery process.

When to seek professional help

Schizophrenia is often best managed with professional advice and treatment. If you or someone you know has symptoms of schizophrenia, it is recommended to seek professional help, in order to receive an appropriate diagnosis and treatment plan. Schizophrenia is usually treated with a combination of medication and therapy [2].

Medication

People with schizophrenia will typically be prescribed an antipsychotic medication to help manage their symptoms. This will usually be an atypical (also known as second generation) antipsychotic, such as risperidone, aripiprazole, and olanzapine. Sometimes it is required to try several different medications before finding one that works well, as everyone responds to medications differently.

If symptoms persist and are not managed with these medications, doctors may prescribe clozapine, which is a unique type of antipsychotic. Clozapine is often very effective but can cause severe side effects. Because of these risks it is not a first-line treatment and requires careful physical health monitoring with use [2][6].

The dosage and type of medication that is prescribed may be altered during treatment depending on symptom changes and responses to the medication. Doctors will closely monitor physical and mental health throughout this treatment, making changes where necessary [6].

Therapy

Depending on the individual’s symptoms and if they can engage in therapy, different types of therapy may be offered. Therapy can help individuals manage emotional distress, improve medication compliance, help with developing social and professional skills, and improve communication between family members within the home [2][6].

Different types of therapy that are used in the treatment of schizophrenia may include [2][5][6]:

Resources
  1. National Health Service. (Reviewed 2023). Living With – Schizophrenia. NHS. Retrieved from https://www.nhs.uk/mental-health/conditions/schizophrenia/living-with/
  2. Rethink Mental Illness. (Updated 2023). Schizophrenia. Rethink. Retrieved from https://www.rethink.org/advice-and-information/about-mental-illness/learn-more-about-conditions/schizophrenia/
  3. Mind. (2020). Schizophrenia – How Can Friends and Family Help?Mind. Retrieved from https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/schizophrenia/for-friends-and-family/
  4. The Royal Australian & New Zealand College of Psychiatrists. (Reviewed 2017). Helping Someone With Schizophrenia. Your Health in Mind. Retrieved from https://www.yourhealthinmind.org/mental-illnesses-disorders/schizophrenia/helping-someone
  5. Widiyawati, W., Yusuf, A., Devy, S.R., & Widayanti, D.M. (2020). Family Support and Adaptation Mechanisms of Adults Outpatients with Schizophrenia. Journal of Public Health Research, 9(2), 1848. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.4081/jphr.2020.1848
  6. Patel, K.R., Cherian, J., Gohil, K., & Atkinson, D. (2014). Schizophrenia: Overview and Treatment Options. P & T: A Peer-Reviewed Journal for Formulary Management, 39(9), 638–645. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4159061/
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Naomi Carr
Author Naomi Carr Writer

Naomi Carr serves as our talented writer, dedicated to raising awareness about mental health and providing support to those in need.

Published: Jul 11th 2023, Last edited: Sep 22nd 2023

Morgan Blair
Medical Reviewer Morgan Blair MA, LPCC

Meet Morgan Blair, our accomplished medical reviewer. Morgan is a licensed therapist with a master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling from Northwestern University.

Content reviewed by a medical professional. Last reviewed: Jul 11th 2023