Schizophrenia is a serious mental illness that affects approximately 24 million people worldwide. It can cause hallucinations, delusions and disorganized thinking, influencing how a person perceives reality and impacting their ability to communicate effectively. Knowing how to communicate with someone with schizophrenia is crucial if they rely on you for support.
It’s essential to be careful what you say and remember that your experience may not align with the reality they’re aware of, especially when experiencing symptoms. Understanding schizophrenia and knowing what to say can help strengthen your relationship with a loved one struggling with the condition.
How Does Schizophrenia Affect My Loved One?
Schizophrenia can affect how a person feels, thinks or acts and impair daily functioning. They may detach from reality or see the world in a distorted way. If your family member has been diagnosed with schizophrenia, there are various symptoms to be aware of, including:
- Psychotic symptoms: Hallucinations, delusions and disordered thinking, speech or movement
- Negative symptoms: Social withdrawal and lack of emotional expression
- Cognitive symptoms: Difficulty paying attention and processing new information
Communication Challenges of Schizophrenia
When someone with schizophrenia is disconnected from reality, it can be hard to communicate their thoughts and opinions. When trying to relay their feelings, they may experience varying speech patterns, such as speaking too fast or slow and using words or phrases unknown to others that can confuse the listener. They may also need help understanding or processing information given to them during a conversation.
People with schizophrenia often express illogical thought processes or beliefs, which can be a source of distraction. They may even have trouble remembering parts of the conversation, as psychosis interferes with memory. This can make it difficult for both that person and their family or friends to communicate effectively and understand what the other is trying to say.
What to Say to a Loved One With Schizophrenia
Compassion, empathy and understanding are essential when communicating with someone with schizophrenia. Offer encouragement and praise when they complete tasks, especially if they’re experiencing low motivation or feeling overwhelmed. It’s important to practice active listening and pay attention to their body language to understand their wants, needs and feelings better. Be patient when they express their beliefs, acknowledging and validating them even if you disagree.
It can also be challenging for someone with schizophrenia to stay on track during conversations. Give them time to process what you’re telling them, so they can better remember what’s said. This could mean breaking down the discussion into short, clear sentences. If your loved one is experiencing psychosis, seek immediate help.
How to Encourage Treatment and Self-Help
Schizophrenia is a severe condition that typically requires long-term treatment. However, some people with schizophrenia may have a guarded and closed attitude about seeing a mental health professional or taking medication, but not necessarily because they’re in denial. They may have difficulty understanding the severity of their condition due to anosognosia, a symptom impairing an individual’s ability to perceive their mental illness.
Trying to convince someone they have schizophrenia isn’t helpful. Still, you can support them by offering to go to their medical appointments with them or explaining how a professional can alleviate their most bothersome symptoms. This can make treatment seem less intimidating. It may also be beneficial to ask your loved one about their goals, discuss the next steps and create a long-term treatment plan.
Responding to Changes in Symptoms
As with other mental health conditions, the symptoms an individual with schizophrenia experiences can change over time. You can be a supportive family member by becoming familiar with common symptoms and understanding how an affected person’s perspective may change when symptoms do.
Being patient and allowing them plenty of time to respond or complete tasks is essential. For instance, during psychosis, a person may struggle to express emotions, carry on conversations or stay interested in activities. To de-escalate situations, you can also learn to recognize safety concerns, such as specific triggers that cause or worsen symptoms.
Tips for Supporting a Loved One’s Schizophrenia Treatment
Early intervention makes a difference for schizophrenia patients. Finding a good doctor and a treatment plan that meets your loved one’s unique needs is essential to their recovery. Once they start schizophrenia treatment, it’s important to balance being supportive and giving them space to grow. You can do this by helping them adjust to their therapy or medication while allowing them to take care of themselves to build independence and self-confidence.
You also want to look for signs of relapse, which can signify an individual has stopped taking their medication. Common relapse signs include:
- Social withdrawal
- Increased paranoia
- Strange disappearances
- Decrease in personal hygiene
What Not to Say to Someone With Schizophrenia
It’s essential never to dismiss your loved one’s symptoms. Telling someone their symptoms are “in their head” won’t make them disappear. Distorted thoughts and delusions feel very real to those experiencing them, and it’s best to avoid judgment about their experiences or perceptions and try to understand things from their point of view. If they don’t feel like talking, respect that.
During a psychotic episode, don’t overwhelm your loved one with directions or requests. If someone close to you is living with schizophrenia, empathy and compassion are significant elements to enhance communication. Educating yourself on schizophrenia and what your loved one battles daily can help you understand what to say and avoid.
Do Use Simple Directions and Language
A loved one with schizophrenia may struggle to understand elaborate directions, so direct and straightforward communication strategies are key to relaying a message. Use direct phrases like “Sit down and let’s talk” to avoid confusion. If you’re trying to explain something to them or calm them down, talking clearly and using short sentences can make it easier for them to follow the conversation.
It’s also essential to give them a chance to speak without interrupting. Just because they experience difficulty communicating doesn’t mean they’re incapable of making their own decisions or knowing what’s best for their well-being.
Don’t Discuss Their Fears During an Episode
It’s important to remind yourself that certain things you say or do can be harmful to a person with schizophrenia, even unintentionally. Referencing what your loved one fears during an episode will only intensify the distress and panic they’re already experiencing. It’s also best to refrain from yelling, using an aggressive tone or saying harsh things, even if you become angry or frustrated with them.
Your loved one may rely on you for emotional support, and being gentle will provide them with a safe and supportive environment to help them better manage their condition. You’re more likely to calm them down and encourage them to listen to you by speaking gently. Be honest about your thoughts and feelings regarding the situation, but don’t be harsh or aggressive. Your loved one may rely on you for emotional support, and being gentle will provide them with a safe and supportive environment to help them better manage their condition.
Don’t Say Things Like, “Why Are You Acting Crazy?”
Movies and TV shows have heavily contributed to misconceptions regarding schizophrenic behaviors and patterns by portraying people with this condition as crazy, aggressive or violent. In reality, the affected person struggles with unique mental health issues that are often misunderstood. Calling someone with schizophrenia names like crazy or nuts is hurtful and should be avoided altogether.
Avoiding hurtful or derogatory language can help your loved one feel more comfortable around you and less ashamed of their mental health. You can also serve as a good influence to other family members or friends who are less sympathetic or knowledgeable of schizophrenia symptoms.
Don’t Attempt to Diagnose Them
Unless you’re a doctor, don’t attempt to diagnose your loved one. They may worry if their condition doesn’t improve based on the criteria of the wrong diagnosis or turn to unhealthy habits to cope, such as taking drugs or alcohol. This can come across as insensitive and dismissive of their feelings. You also risk misdiagnosing them, which can cause more damage. Schizophrenia is a commonly misdiagnosed mental health condition, and an inaccurate diagnosis can cause great emotional distress and confusion for your loved one.
If a family member displays symptoms similar to schizophrenia, seeking advice from a medical professional can ensure they’re diagnosed correctly and receive appropriate treatment. It can also prevent the condition from worsening.
Schizophrenia Is a Serious Mental Health Condition | See How Alta Loma Can Help You
People with schizophrenia tend to detach from reality based on delusions or hallucinations of what they see or hear. It’s important not to judge or try to “fix” them. Educating yourself on what your loved one is going through will give you a better idea of how to talk to them compassionately and empathically.
At Alta Loma, we understand the importance of learning how to communicate with someone with schizophrenia and are here to help. Located in Georgetown, Texas, we offer individualized therapy, coping skills, education, medication management and more in a safe and tranquil environment. Contact us today at (866) 457-3843 for more information.