Schizophrenia is a chronic disorder. The symptoms of schizophrenia affect many of your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. The severity of these symptoms can fluctuate and even someone who is quite ill can sometimes feel and appear normal, even without medication. This remission of symptoms does not mean the illness has gone away.
Modern antipsychotic medications greatly reduce both the severity of your symptoms and the amount of time you spend experiencing active symptoms. Nevertheless, you should expect times of remission and times of relapse.
Impact of Symptoms
It’s important for you, with the help of your doctor, case managers, and loved ones, to figure out what kinds of support you need, and then put those supports in place.1
Depending on the severity of your illness, you may have trouble with important skills, such as:
- Focusing and maintaining attention
- Remembering appointments, meetings, or past conversations
- Having energy and motivation to do normal activities
- Feeling hopeful or optimistic to try or do new things
- Perceiving and interpreting social cues and facial expressions accurately
- Engaging in conversation in ways that other people expect
- Behaving socially in ways that other people expect
- Overcoming social isolation
It’s important to plan ahead, even when you feel relatively well, for times when you may start to experience symptoms more significantly again. Schizophrenia can sometimes make it difficult for you to recognize signs of these symptoms in yourself, so you may need to rely on feedback from other people that your behavior is changing. People you can ask to watch for changes include:
- People who live with you
- Doctors or social workers you see regularly
- People who work with you or go to school with you
- Family members
When you decide who can look out for you, give them your doctor’s phone number. You may also want to give your doctor a list of approved people who they may call regarding your care. Your doctor or social worker will not give anyone information about you without your permission (your rights to privacy are protected by strong federal laws), but they can listen to the information that these people provide.
How Others Can Help
People often don’t understand what it is like to live with schizophrenia. Educate your support people about what kinds of changes to look for. Because you may have trouble with some of these areas even when you’re relatively healthy, they should watch for changes in your behavior.
Important changes that you can tell your support people to look for include things like:
- Having a harder time getting up in the morning
- Being late to work or school
- Seeming spacy or more easily distracted than usual
- Seeming less happy
- Seeming more irritable or agitated
- Memory worse than usual or having more difficulty with mental tasks
- Appearing to be responding to hallucinations
- Talking obsessively about or becoming distressed about something that seems strange or delusional
If you seek help from your doctor or social worker as soon as these changes occur, a temporary change in medication can likely prevent a full-blown relapse.
Often, you’ll be able to go back to the previous dose after the crisis has passed, or your doctor may change your medications to something that will work better for you.
Steps You Can Take
Almost everyone desires social and emotional connections with others. Schizophrenia is an isolating illness, especially when your active symptoms make you see, hear, and believe things that no one else shares. Even when you’re not experiencing active delusions or hallucinations, your residual and negative symptoms can make social interactions more difficult.
Things you can do to improve your social experiences include:
- Join a peer support group. This gives you an opportunity to meet other people who understand and share the same challenges. You’ll learn strategies that work for other people, and be able to practice your social skills in a non-judgmental atmosphere. These can be found online or in your community.
- Ask for feedback. Don’t be afraid to ask your loved ones, counselors, and close friends for feedback and help to improve your social skills. Your support group wants you to feel well and experience your best life and will do what they can to help that happen.
- Consider community housing. Community housing and group homes can provide social and group recreational opportunities. It’s important to shop carefully for a living situation that provides high-quality care and a safe, friendly environment.
- Participate in social skills training. You might find this through your mental health services team or through a community group. Similar to the benefits of a peer group, these training classes can offer a space to share challenges and feel less alone and isolated in your experiences.
- Matching services. Dating and friend matching services for people with mental health conditions are available in some areas. Ask your consumer self-help group for suggestions.
Regulating emotions can be challenging with schizophrenia. It can be frustrating to you, and your support group, when emotions seem to be getting the better of you. Moments like that can feel isolating and can result in someone feeling hurt. Taking measures to learn how to emotionally cope in this journey is important and there a many things you can do to help that process along.
A big part of learning how to regulate our emotions is to learn what they are and why we have them. Actively and consistently participating in your therapy treatment, such as individual, family and group counseling, can offer you time to explore and learn how to identify what emotions you are experiencing and how to best manage them when they begin to escalate.
Just like for anyone else, it can be helpful to talk with a support person when our emotions escalate or we are having a hard time processing our experiences. Being able to turn to a support person is courageous and can be helpful in our journey. Simply taking the time to slow down and talk through our experience can help us deescalate and find a sense of calm again.
You might experience times when your emotions feel too overwhelming or you don’t feel comfortable turning to someone in that moment. A wonderful alternative is journaling. As with talking through an experience, writing in a journal helps us to slow down what is happening for us and allows us an opportunity to learn about our emotions and patterns of behavior.
The idea of self-care can be challenging for most of us. However, it can be even harder when you struggle with the symptoms of schizophrenia. Remembering to take time for your wellness and well-being is important. These could be simple things, such as:
- Enjoying coffee or tea
- Sitting outside
- Watching wildlife
- Writing in your journal
- Spending time with friends
Practical Daily Living
Everyone needs help at times to keep up with the tasks of daily life. For example, most people have to use calendars or smartphones to help them remember appointments and keep track of the things they need to do. Some people rely on a spouse to pick out their clothes for them or to help them remember chores. There’s no right answer to how much help a person “should” need.
Independent living for someone with schizophrenia involves a number of definite skills. Social workers call these activities of daily living or ADLs. Skills a person might need to improve can include:
- Taking medications at the right time each day
- Bathing, washing hair, brushing teeth, trimming nails
- Making the bed, changing sheets when needed
- Preparing healthy meals and eating regularly
- Cleaning your living space such as the kitchen and bathroom
- Grocery shopping and running errands
- Managing money and sticking to a budget
- Using public transportation
You may want to take time to reflect on what tasks feel harder to you than others. For things you find more challenging to do on a regular basis, it is helpful to recruit your support system member for assistance and accountability. Talk with them about setting personal goals in these areas and discuss how they might be able to help you.
Mistakes to Avoid
Don’t Wait to Seek Help
Symptoms of schizophrenia often build gradually so it can be difficult for people to recognize patterns until they become obvious. Talking with a doctor right away helps you better understand what is happening and allows you to start the treatment process sooner.
Schizophrenia Discussion Guide
Get our printable guide to help you ask the right questions at your next doctor’s appointment.
Don’t Let Schizophrenia Define You
Schizophrenia involves experiencing some significant symptoms. However, it is important to remember that this condition, alone, is not all of who you are. Connection with family and friends are so important to remind us we are not alone and there is nothing to feel ashamed of.
Don’t Try to Fix Things Yourself
Even when we notice patterns in our behavior that are concerning, it can be easy to want to try to keep them hidden from other and “fix” it on our own. Schizophrenia involves complex symptoms that can increase in intensity if not addressed through proper treatment methods.
Don’t Skip Treatments or Appointments
When your symptoms start to decrease in intensity you might feel like it isn’t necessary to go to your therapy appointments, group therapy sessions or your medication management appointments. Not attending treatment appointments consistently can have a negative impact on your overall success in this journey. It is important to be consistent.
Caring for a loved one with schizophrenia can be challenging, but it doesn’t have to feel impossible. The first step is to learn what you can about the condition. Many people find schizophrenia intimidating because of the nature of the symptoms experienced. Learning from mental health professionals and other resources can help you gain useful information.
Even though your role is to support your loved one in their treatment journey, remember that you will need support as well. Many times caregivers are focused so much on helping others that they neglect to take time for their own well-being. Finding local support groups and even online group support resources can be a wonderful outlet to share experiences and find encouragement.