What can friends or family do to help?
This section is for friends and family who want to support someone they know with a diagnosis of schizophrenia.
As a friend, relative or partner, you can have a vital role in helping someone recover and reducing the likelihood of them having a relapse. However, it can be difficult for you to know how to help.
“Lonely, confused, isolated, scared, prejudiced against…[In my experience] that’s how family members feel.”
Most people want to feel cared about and to have someone they can discuss their feelings and options with. In regard to the friend or family member with a diagnosis of schizophrenia, it is very important to avoid either blaming them or saying things like ‘pull yourself together’.
Focus on feelings rather than experiences
It can be difficult for you to know how to respond to someone who sees something or believes something that you do not.
Rather than confirming or denying their experience, it may help if you say something like ‘I accept that you hear voices or see things in that way, but it is not like that for me’. It is usually more constructive if you can focus on how the person is feeling, rather than what they are experiencing.
If someone were to say to you that your experiences are not real, it would just make you feel more alone than ever.
Find out about schizophrenia
This includes learning about the different coping strategies, which your friend or relative might find useful. You may also find it helpful to learn about other people’s experiences by reading personal stories, joining support groups or speaking to others in the same situation as you.
When the person is feeling well, it is useful to discuss how you can be supportive when and if a crisis occurs. In having this conversation, it can be helpful for you to state clearly what you feel you can and cannot deal with.
Ask how you and others can help
Ask the person if they would like practical support. This might include helping them find accommodation or access to particular services. If you are acting on their behalf, it is important that you consult them and do not take over. Alternatively, it may be possible to find an independent advocate to help them.
Help in an emergency
If you think your friend or family member could be at risk of hurting themselves or others, it might be necessary to consider a mental health assessment for them. The nearest relative can request that the person at risk be given a mental health assessment by an approved mental health professional. This assessment involves considering treatment options and deciding whether or not the person should be detained (admitted to hospital).
Referring someone for an assessment can be a difficult decision to make, as it can result in someone being detained in hospital against their will. In this situation, there are no right answers. It can help to make sure you are fully informed about the law and what could happen, and perhaps consider talking to other family members before you take this step.
Get support for yourself
It can be distressing when someone you are close to experiences the symptoms of schizophrenia. It is important to get support in coping with your own feelings, which you may find include anger, guilt, fear or frustration.