My current diagnosis is that I have 'A Schizophrenic Illness'. I don't know which of the illnesses I have, whether it is Paranoid Schizophrenia, Schizoaffective, Schizotypal or any of the other myriad of Schizophrenic illnesses. I may 'just' have plain, boring Schizophrenia! Whatever it is I have, I know that many people with Schizophrenic diagnoses like to be treated in a similar way to the way I like being treated. So here are some of the ways to help someone with a Schizophrenic diagnosis.
1. Treat us with love and respect at ALL times.
This may seem obvious, and I imagine virtually everyone wants to be treated with love and respect at all times in their life! However, it is crucial to do this for Schizophrenics. I take much longer to recover from criticism and a hasty word said in frustration than other people do and I know many of my fellow sufferers do too. This is why the love and respect needs to happen at all times. Even if an apology is immediately offered, I can still be upset for a long time afterwards about it. I know that people who don't know about my diagnosis are the worst offenders of this and so I am hoping to be more open about my diagnosis in the very near future. Hopefully people will be more understanding of my behaviours if I am open with my diagnosis. After all, how many 24 year olds hide behind their parents because they are too shy to talk to a stranger?!
2. Give us space each and every time we want it.
This can be a tricky one for parents with an adult schizophrenic child still living with them. I know when I was a teenager, I would stay in my bedroom for hours every day/night and somedays would literally only come out for food, to do chores and to use the bathroom. Many parents of teenagers let them get away with this as they hope their teen will grow out of it. However, once that time of life has passed, the adult child is expected to spend most or all of their free time at home with the rest of the family. I know that I can struggle with being around people all the time and do quite like a bit of alone time every now and then. I doubt I'm the only one! Yet it can still be difficult for parents and other members of the family and friends to accept an adult hiding in their bedroom all the time. If you are in this situation, I would advise that you let your child/relative/friend spend as much time as they want alone but remind them every now and then that it would be nice to have their company. If they do appear in the lounge or wherever, don't make a big fuss of their presence but make sure they are warmly welcomed. Make us feel loved but not intimidated and overwhelmed!
3. Research the treatments and any medications we are on.
Medication was always a big issue for me. I've never liked Psychiatric medications and have never found any of the Anti-Psychotics I was on to be of any help. Some who know me may disagree with that but as I was the one hearing the voices, I was the best judge of the helpfulness of the drugs! The thing that worried me were the side effects of the medications I was on and knowing that diabetes was an actual direct side effect of one medication I was forced into was shocking. I was even more shocked when I discovered that heart problems was another! I'm so glad I only found out about the heart problem side effect after I'd come off that medication! If your loved one or friend is on medication then I would recommend keeping up to date with information about it. Changes in procedures can occur so stay informed and query anything you are unsure about with doctors or psychiatrists. Plus, staying up to date with information about medications can also help you to find out that your loved one isn't being over medicated. As far as I'm aware, over medicating doesn't happen often but it does happen in some circumstances. Up to date knowledge can be the best way of keeping your loved one safe and it can also give you peace of mind at the same time. The same thing applies to any other forms of treatment such as Talking Therapies like CBT. Research, Research, Research!
4. Never EVER pressurise us into telling you something we are ashamed of.
This was another big one for me. The dominant voice I heard would say all sorts of threatening and abusive things about myself and others. I felt ashamed that such grotesque things were being said to me and I hated it when people tried to force me to say something that the voice had said to me. On a couple of occasions in hospital, things were forced out of me and I felt so embarrassed and ashamed for saying them. No matter how many times I was told that I wouldn't shock them and that they'd heard it all before, I still felt ashamed for saying some things. I much preferred it when I could think about something for a while and then say it when (or if) I was ready to talk about it. I knew that I could always talk to my family when I wanted to and could talk to them about anything. This was such a weight off my shoulders to know this and I would recommend you telling your loved one this too. So to sum this one up, never force something out of a loved one but make sure they know that they can talk to you about anything at any time.
5. Remember that we may not be the same person we were before we became unwell.
I know that there are cases of children being 'born' with schizophrenia (Jani Schofield for example) and other sufferers may have not changed much since they became unwell so this won't apply to everyone. However, those who became unwell in teens or adult life (like myself) can change considerably from the person they were to the person they currently are. Schizophrenia usually stops a person from mentally developing which leaves them 'stuck' at the age which they became unwell. For example, my first noticeable symptoms of schizophrenia started at 18 so I stayed at a mental age of 18 until I started recovering. I'm catching up on lost developmental time though! As well as development stopping, tasks that were once easy can become monumental to achieve and harder tasks can become completely impossible. It can be hard for loved ones of a schizophrenic to come to terms with these changes (or lack of change developmental wise) but I would urge you to realise that your loved one is going through a rough patch and it could take time before they become the person they used to be. Sometimes, a sufferer may never return to the person they were and if that is the case then please accept your loved one for who they are now. It isn't their fault that they've gone through this change and they too can be frustrated with the changes. The last thing we need is for someone to remind us of the person we used to be and use this to try and force us to do something we struggle with. I know that I used to be able to work 12 hours plus, on my feet, for several nights at a time when I was younger. Now, I struggle just to walk for longer than about an hour at a time without becoming exhausted. Thankfully, I have a loving and understanding family who would never throw this in my face as a reason for me to get up and get some work done. However, as wonderful as my family are, they can still struggle to come to terms with the changes that have happened to me. For anyone with a loved one who is schizophrenic, please do not EVER throw their past character in their face as a reason for them to be more motivated or to work harder. Believe me, we do our best! We appreciate it when what we have done is praised rather than what we haven't done is picked up on.
There are probably a million more ways to help people with schizophrenic diagnoses but here are just five ways to help. But just remember, we are all different and some may not want to be helped in these ways! Some sufferers may find that being helped in these ways is insulting and may feel like they are being treated like children. I know that some of these ways of helping do sound juvenile so for those who developed schizophrenia at older ages these methods may not be helpful. If that is the case, then just speak to your loved one and see how they want to be treated. If they want to have their shower at three in the morning and only want to leave the house once a week, do your best to accommodate them. We didn't ask for this illness and this illness can make us do and think things that may seem strange to you. But an accommodating friend or loved one can mean the world to a sufferer so please try and let us do what makes us happy. Providing we keep ourselves (and everyone around us) safe and well.
I write these things to help others but I also do it so that if I ever go through another rough patch, I can look back at these posts for inspiration and encouragement. These posts are meant to be informative for everyone whether you are a sufferer, know a sufferer, work in Mental Health or even if you're just curious about schizophrenia! Also, I am currently enjoying all this writing I am doing (2 blog posts used since Friday! Will put links up later) so if you have any questions about anything to do with schizophrenia or anything else, I will gladly answer them. I've been getting such positive feedback from the things I have written so far and I love hearing from people who say they love what I have written! I do try and respond to them all, even if it is just a quick thank you message, but please know that every little piece of feedback is greatly welcomed and each positive feedback makes me smile! I apologise if I only send a quick thank you message; it usually means that I am busy with something but still wanted to thank you before I forgot! But by all means, if you have any questions, feel free to ask them! I am keen to help others and if I can help people then I will do everything I can to help.