I have met so many parents who have children (minors and adults) who have been diagnosed with schizophrenia. I have received e-mails from people who are at a loss as to how to help their family member with schizophrenia. So many of these people are stressed out and at their wits end…feeling that they have exhausted all options and that there is no longer room for help. I really empathize with people in this situation. Having schizophrenia, I know how hard it can be for my own parents to understand how to help me at times. I know the pain that it causes them to see me when I am psychotic or a danger to myself. I understand the helplessness they feel. Therefore, I wrote this for people in this situation…people who do not know how to help their diagnosed loved one any more. Through my own personal experiences, listening to the opinions of others, and research I have read, I have gained an idea of how parents, caregivers, and families can help.
First, you have to accept that your son or daughter has schizophrenia. We have to do the same thing…accept that we have it as well. Its a huge step. Its a hard step. By accepting it, I not only mean that you have to fully recognize that your son or daughter has this illness, but you have to do so in a specific manner. You have to stop blaming yourselves, your child, the world…whatever you blame. You didn’t give us this disease by raising us poorly. All parents make mistakes just like you did…not all children grow up to have schizophrenia. If your child did drugs and then got the disease, stop blaming them. Drugs cannot cause it. They can help begin psychosis but the underlying disease was already there. Blaming your child (for any reason, not just due to drugs) will only create a shame that they can feel and only anger can fester from that. They need to know you support them, not that you resent them. You also have to stop feeling shame. Your child can sense that as well. Don’t hide the illness from all your friends and loved ones. Don’t feel ashamed of your child. Not only does that ruin the support system of your child, but it ruins your own support system. If you are too ashamed to tell anyone about your child’s illness…how can you get the support that you need? And don’t fool yourself, you do need support. All of these things, you child is having to do as well. I know that it took me months to accept that I have schizophrenia. It was a hard journey. Now I don’t blame anyone. Now I am not ashamed. I’ll tell anyone who wants to know that I have schizophrenia…just so that I can bust the stigma that people like me are crazy, raving lunatics. Help your child and do the same.
Second, you have to understand what your child is going through. Without understanding, you cannot sympathize with them, you can only pity them. We don’t want pity. To understand, you have to educate yourself. Honestly, if you exclude the brain processes and medications, I think I know almost as much as my psychiatrist does about my disease. You need to get to that same point. Then, you will be able to recognize when your child is experiencing anhedonia (inability to feel pleasure), avolition (inability to initiate or persist in goal directed behavior), alogia (difficulty or inability to speak), or apathy (lack of motivation). You will know how to talk to your child when they are paranoid, delusional, or experiencing hallucinations–there are specific ways to deal with a person experiencing such things. For example, you cannot tell you child, “Oh you’re just paranoid,” or “That isn’t real.” By saying such things, you dismiss what your child is feeling and point out that they are not experiencing what normal people feel. Your child doesn’t want to hear that. Instead, you can approach the situation by asking them why they feel paranoid and if there is anything you can do to help them feel less so. For example, if they think someone has broken into the house, offer to search the house for them and make sure it is safe. If they are hallucinating, ask them what they are experiencing then try to distract them by gently changing the topic. If you can get them talking about something they are interested in, you can often help them ignore the hallucination until it goes away, or at least make it easier for them to ignore. But you cannot do any of this until you understand the process of schizophrenia.
Third, set reasonable goals for your child. Do not expect their symptoms to get better or just go away. Do not expect that they will be able to hold down a job or finish college. Do not expect them to find a partner and get married. Do not expect that they will be able to ignore their symptoms and “will” themselves to do better. They will know that you are doing this and they will feel pressure to meet your goals. Again, this can only drive them away from you. You don’t want your child to feel that they can only let you down. Also, if you quit setting these goals you will experience a sense of relief. No longer can your child let you down. If they do finish college or find a job, you will experience surprise and happiness. If they go into remission and the medicine helps them a great deal, you will be relieved. If you have expectations and these things don’t happen…you will head towards blame, shame, and guilt. And, when your child is able to make smaller steps towards success, you will be able to value those small steps more than if you were comparing them to the large goals your child has yet to meet. Making it through a week of difficult college exams can be a huge success for a schizophrenic trying to make it through college. But if all you are worried about is whether or not they will maintain a high GPA or graduate, you will miss out on the opportunity to celebrate the smaller steps. Your child needs encouragement and recognition for these successes. They need to know that you can see the progress they are making no matter what form that progress is in.
Finally, take care of yourself. Your child, even though disabled, does not come first. If you do not place your needs above those of your child, you will never be able to properly care for them. Take a weekend with your spouse, a friend, or just yourself and go do something that you want to do. If you cannot leave your child for that long, take an afternoon. Take a few hours. Read that book you keep meaning to buy. Take a bubble bath and light some aromatic candles. Take an hour to watch your favorite televison show. Go for a walk. Go sit at the local cafe and sip some tea or coffee. Do anything that is relaxing to you and what you desire.
I sincerely hope that at least some of this advice can help someone. A lot of it applies to other mental illnesses as well…not just schizophrenia.