The family environment is important to the recovery of individuals with schizophrenia. Even though the disorder can be a frustrating illness, family members can help the process of recovery in many ways.
Encourage Treatment and Rehabilitation
Medication and psychotherapy can help a person feel better, engage in meaningful activities, and improve their quality of life. The first step is to visit a doctor for a thorough evaluation. If possible, it’s helpful for family members to be present at the evaluation to offer support, help answer the doctor’s questions, and learn about the illness.
Support for Medication Usage
Taking medication can be difficult. There may be times when the individual with schizophrenia may not want to take it or may just forget to take it. If medication is prescribed, family and friends can provide valuable support to make sure it’s taken regularly. Encouragement and reminders from family members can help their loved one make medication part of their daily routine.
Support for Therapy Treatments
An individual with schizophrenia may also be referred to psychosocial treatment and rehabilitation. Family members and friends can be very helpful in supporting therapy attendance. Some ways to encourage therapy attendance are giving reminders, offering support, and providing transportation to the clinic.
Family Stress vs. Family Support
Family stress is a powerful predictor of relapse, while family support decreases the rate of relapse. Support can be provided in different ways. For example, helping the person pursue meaningful goals and activities can be very helpful in the process of recovery.
It is best if family members try to be understanding rather than critical, negative, or blaming. It may be difficult at times, but families do best when they are patient and appreciate any progress that is being made, however slow it may be.
For family members who have difficulty being supportive, it might be because of what they believe is causing the disorder. Studies show that family members try to make sense of schizophrenia by determining its cause. They tend to think about the causes of the illness as either “moral” or “organic.”
Family Stress: Believing the Cause is a Moral Failure
Family members who believe the cause of schizophrenia is “moral” believe it is caused by the individual’s personality – the individual is weak, lazy, or lacking self-discipline. This belief leads family members to believe that the symptoms are controllable by their relative. The belief that people have control over, and are therefore responsible for their symptoms, can lead to feelings of anger. This in turn can prevent family members from being supportive of their ill relative.
Family Support: Believing the Cause is Organic
Family members who believe the cause of schizophrenia is “organic” believe in the medical model of disease (i.e., schizophrenia is a medical illness). This belief leads family members to believe that the symptoms are not controllable, and therefore the individual is not responsible for their symptoms. These beliefs lead to greater feelings of warmth and sympathy and a greater willingness to help.
Research has shown that family members who hold a medical view of schizophrenia are less critical of their relative than those who hold a moral view. Relatives’ views of what causes schizophrenia are important because critical and hostile attitudes on the part of family members are predictive of relapse in schizophrenia.
Take Care of Yourself
It’s common for family members to feel guilty about spending time away from their ill relative, but it’s really important that they take good care of themselves. Here are some ways to care for themselves:
- Family members should not allow their ill relative to monopolize all of their time.
- Spending time alone or with other family members and friends is important for their own well-being.
- Family members may also consider joining a support or therapy group. Counseling can often help family and friends better cope with a loved one’s illness.
- Most importantly, family members and friends shouldn’t feel responsible for handling or solving all the problems themselves. Please get help from a mental health professional if needed!
Keep Learning and Find Support
The most important thing is to keep learning about schizophrenia and find a safe place to ask questions and feel supported. We offer a free private Facebook group for families with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. You can also subscribe to receive our newsletter so that you can receive our latest blog posts.
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