Caring for a loved one with schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder can be exhausting, frustrating, and overwhelming… but it doesn’t have to be! Here are a few tips on how to support your loved one while taking care of yourself at the same time.
Schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder are thought disorders, not personality disorders. They affect the ability to think clearly and, contrary to what the media portrays, do not lead to multiple personalities. Symptoms typically include hallucinations and delusions, difficulty deciphering reality from fantastical thinking, poor hygiene, difficulty communicating and expressing thoughts and emotions, an inability to adequately read emotions and pick up on social cues, low motivation, and a lack of self-awareness.
While medication is an important part of treating “positive” symptoms (hallucinations and delusions), medication doesn’t effectively treat the “negative” symptoms (poor hygiene, difficulty expressing emotions and communicating, resistance to taking medication, etc.). Therapy and consistent family support, in addition to medication, can help reduce the severity of symptoms.
CARING FOR YOUR LOVED ONE
- Set boundaries: Your loved one suffering from schizophrenia needs structure and consistency. When you set boundaries, be clear and direct. Make sure they are understood by everyone involved. While it’s important to have rules and a routine, don’t monitor their every move. You’re not a babysitter, so don’t treat them like a child and discipline them. Instead offer guidance and support.
- Meet them at their level: Identify your expectations and know they won’t be the same as someone without schizophrenia. Readjust your expectations if needed and meet them at their level of capability. However, don’t underestimate their abilities. It’s important to challenge them and set new goals.
- Be a good listener: Continually encourage them to communicate and express emotion. If you don’t understand what they are saying, don’t shut them down or fight them. It’s important that you allow them to express their delusions, as long as they are not harmful. Let them know you support them by saying, “I’m listening” or “I’m thinking about what you said.” You don’t have to have an answer for everything, but they want to be heard, so listen and don’t reject them or their thoughts and emotions.
- Promote socialization: People suffering from schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder need regular socialization. Look for local community mental health centers that offer social rehabilitation groups. Be a role model for healthy emotional expression, social skills, and behavior. Invite family and friends over to socialize. When you break the news to them about your loved one’s illness, educate them about their mental health issue to reduce stigma. Emphasize that your loved one is still the same person and not dangerous. Having friends and family around will give you an opportunity to model proper social skills and allow your loved one to develop their skills at the same time.
CARING FOR YOURSELF
- Don’t put your own life on hold: As stated above, you are not your loved one’s babysitter. Feel free to live your life, without feeling guilty. With clear boundaries and a regular routine set in place, you’ll have the freedom and flexibility to do what you need and want to do. Also remember to focus on your other relationships. While you put a lot of work into your relationship with the person who has schizophrenia, don’t forget to nurture the relationships with your other family members and friends.
- Make time for self-care every day: It can be exhausting and sometimes frustrating to care for a loved one with a mental illness. Set aside time for yourself every day to do something that reenergizes you and makes you feel good about yourself. This can include exercise, meditation, yoga, making art, playing an instrument, or anything else that helps you relax and focus on your own well-being. You may not have a mental illness, but your mental health is still important!
- Hold regular family meetings: Don’t attempt to solve all problems by yourself. Include the other members of the household in problem solving, setting boundaries, and creating routines. Regular meetings will ensure you are all on the same page and provide the space to support one another.
- Don’t self blame: No matter how tough things get, don’t blame yourself for your loved one’s illness. Schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder are biological illnesses. There was nothing you could have done to prevent it. Don’t internalize your emotions or problems. If you find yourself feeling guilty, unhappy, or unworthy, ask for help from friends, family, or a therapist. If you continue to bottle up your feelings without having a healthy outlet, it could lead to depression or anxiety. Practice positive self talk daily. Repeat affirmations aloud and with feeling. The more you hear yourself saying positive things about yourself, the more you’ll believe them, and the happier you’ll be.
- Find humor in the situations: Laughter is an important part of self-care and a useful coping tool when caring for a loved one who has schizophrenia. Find humor in some of the situations, such as when your loved one is sharing thoughts or beliefs that seem eccentric. As long as there is no possibility for self harm or harm to others, or they don’t fear the delusions, it’s OK to let it go and accept the situation for what it is.
Do you need guidance and support? Serenity Lane offers therapy for both the individual suffering from schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder, as well as guidance and coaching for the family members supporting their loved one. There is no reason you have to go at it alone – Serenity Lane can help. Contact Dr. Violante today and get the support and guidance you need.
Recommended reading on how you can support your loved one suffering from schizophrenia: The Complete Family Guide to Schizophrenia, by Kim T. Mueser PhD and Susan Gingerich MSW