Joining the BC Schizophernia Society is probably the best an easist way to help your loved one. So many resources and medications are now available that joining with others who have experience can make a world of difference to the lives of those touched by this disease.

1. LEARN TO RECOGNIZE SYMPTOMS

When odd behaviour is experienced or observed, it makes good sense to seek advice from a doctor. An acute episode may happen suddenly, or symptoms may develop over a period of time. The following symptoms are important:

  • Marked change in personality

  • A constant feeling of being watched

  • Difficulty controlling one's thoughts

  • Hearing voices or sounds others don't hear

  • Increasing withdrawal from social contacts

  • Seeing people or things that others don't see

  • Difficulties with language -- words do not make sense

  • Sudden excesses, such as extreme religiosity

  • Irrational, angry, or fearful responses to loved ones

  • Sleeplessness and agitation

These symptoms, even in combination, may not be evidence of schizophrenia. They could be the result of injury, drug use, or extreme emotional distress (a death in the family, for example.) The crucial factor is the ability to turn off the imagination.

2. GET PROPER MEDICAL HELP

  • Take the initiative. If symptoms of schizophrenia are occurring, ask your doctor for an assessment or referral.Family members are usually the first to notice symptoms and suggest medical help. Remember, if the ill person accepts hallucinations and delusions as reality, they may resist treatment.

  • Be persistent. Find a doctor who is familiar with schizophrenia.The assessment and treatment of schizophrenia should be done by people who are well-qualified. Choose a physician who has an interest in the illness, who is competent and has empathy with patients and their families. Remember -- if you lack confidence in a physician or psychiatrist, you always have the right to seek a second opinion.

  • Assist the doctor/psychiatrist. Patients with schizophrenia may not be able to volunteer much information during an assessment. Talk to the doctor yourself, or write a letter describing your concerns. Be specific. Be persistent. The information you supply can help the physician towards more accurate assessment and treatment.

  • Other sources of assessment and treatment: The Ministry of Health is the government department responsible for Mental Health Services in British Columbia. Assessment and treatment are available through regional Mental Health centres throughout the province. Check your phone book, or call the B.C. Schizophrenia Society to find the one nearest you.

3. MAKING THE MOST OF TREATMENT

There may be exchanges between doctor and patient that the patient feels are of a highly personal nature and wants to keep confidential. However, family members need information related to care and treatment. You should be able to discuss the following with the doctor:

  • Signs and symptoms of the illness

  • Expected course of the illness

  • Treatment strategies

  • Signs of possible relapse

  • Other related information

Provide plenty of support and loving care. Help the person accept their illness. Try to show by your attitude and behaviour that there is hope, that the disease can be managed, and that life can be satisfying and productive.

Help the person with schizophrenia maintain a record of information on:

  • Symptoms that have appeared

  • All medications, including dosages

  • Effects of various types of treatment

4. LEARN TO RECOGNIZE SIGNS OF RELAPSE

Family and friends should be familiar with signs of "relapse" -- where the person may suffer a period of deterioration due to a flare up of symptoms. It helps to know that relapse signs often recur for an individual. These vary from person to person, but the most common signs are:

  • Increased withdrawal from activities

  • Deterioration of basic personal care.

You should also know that:

  • Stress and tension make symptoms worse

  • Symptoms often diminish as the person gets older.

5. MANAGING FROM DAY TO DAY

Ensure that medical treatment continues after hospitalization. This means taking medication and going for follow-up treatment.

Provide a structured and predictable environment. The recovering patient will have problems with sensory overload. To reduce stress, keep routines simple, and allow the person time alone each day. Try to plan non-stressful, low-key regular daily activities, and keep "big events" to a minimum.

Be consistent. Caregivers should agree on a plan of action and follow it. If you are predictable in the way you handle recurring concerns, you can help reduce confusion and stress for the person who is ill.

Maintain peace and calm at home. Thought disorder is a great problem for most people with schizophrenia. It generally helps to keep voice levels down. When the person is participating in discussions, try to speak one at a time, and at a reasonably moderated pace. Shorter sentences can also help. Above all, avoid arguing about delusions (false beliefs).

Be positive and supportive. Being positive instead of critical will help the person more in the long run. People with schizophrenia need frequent encouragement, since self-esteem is often very fragile. Encourage all positive efforts. Be sure to express appreciation for a job even half-done, because the illness undermines a person's confidence, initiative, patience, and memory.

Help the ill person set realistic goals. People with schizophrenia need lots of encouragement to regain some of their former skills and interests. They may also want to try new things, but should work up to them gradually. If goals are unreasonable, or someone is nagging, the resulting stress can worsen symptoms.

Gradually increase independence. As participation in a variety of tasks and activities increases, so should independence. Set limits on how much abnormal behaviour is acceptable, and consistently apply the consequences. Some relearning is usually necessary for skills such as handling money, cooking, and housekeeping. If outside employment is too difficult, try to help the person plan to use their time constructively.

Learn how to cope with stress together. Anticipate the ups and downs of life and try to prepare accordingly. The person who is ill needs to learn to deal with stress in a socially acceptable manner. Your positive role-modelling can help. Sometimes just recognizing and talking about something in advance that might be stressful can also help.

Encourage your relative to try something new. Offer help selecting an appropriate activity. If requested, go along the first time for moral support.

6. LOOK AFTER YOURSELF AND OTHER FAMILY MEMBERS

Be good to yourself. SELF-CARE is very important -- even crucial -- to every individual, and ultimately helps the functioning of the entire family. Let go of guilt and shame. Remember -- poor parenting or poor communication did not cause this illness, nor is it the result of any personal failure by the individual.

Value your own privacy. Keep up your friendships and outside interests, and try to lead as orderly a life as possible.

Do not neglect other family members. Brothers and sisters often secretly share the same guilt and fear as their parents. Or they may worry that they might become ill too. When their concerns are neglected, they may feel jealous or resentful of the ill person. Siblings of people with schizophrenia need special attention and support to deal with these issues.

GET SUPPORT... Learn From Others Who Have Similar Experience
Check for resources in your community. If you are the parent, spouse, sibling, or child of someone with schizophrenia -- it helps to know you are not alone.

Support groups are good for sharing experiences with others. You will also get useful advice about your local mental health services from those who have "been there."

Knowing where to go and who to see -- and how to avoid wasting precious time and energy -- can make a world of difference when trying to find good treatment. Continuity of care is also important. Ultimately, this involves ongoing medical, financial, housing, and social support systems. All these services are crucial for recovery -- yet they tend to be very poorly coordinated. Support groups can help you start putting the pieces of this puzzle together. They can also advocate for better, more integrated services for people with schizophrenia and their families.

  • Call the Mental Health clinic in your community...
    Ask about their family education program

  • Look for family support organizations in your region

  • JOIN THE B.C. SCHIZOPHRENIA SOCIETY -- CALL (604) 270-7841

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