One of the best ways to help a person with schizophrenia is to encourage them to seek treatment – but that’s easier said than done. It is not uncommon for people with schizophrenia to avoid taking medications or seeing a mental health professional.
If this scenario sounds familiar, it’s important not to give up. Friends and family play an important role in making sure that loved ones have access to appropriate doctors and medications.
The search for a cure for schizophrenia: first steps
It can be difficult to convince people with schizophrenia that they need to take medication for their condition. But don’t assume they’re in denial: Not many people can think clearly when it comes to their condition. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), about 30 percent of people with schizophrenia experience severe unconsciousness, or a lack of awareness of their serious mental illness. Other times, they may not believe they need therapy because they believe their delusions or hallucinations are real.
If they resist getting help, NAMI suggests approaching them in a supportive way. Start by asking about their goals, which can set the stage for a productive conversation about next steps and help develop an actionable plan. Another way to gently encourage a person with schizophrenia to see a doctor is to offer to accompany them to their appointments.
Some people with schizophrenia fear being stigmatized if they seek medical help. But this does not mean that you have to pretend that your loved one is fine. Telling them that a doctor can help them deal with certain symptoms, without judgment, may encourage them to seek help.
Says Ronald J. Diamond, MD, psychiatrist and faculty emeritus at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health in Madison: “Think of recovery as a process, not a place.”
If you’re feeling overwhelmed or want to learn more about caring for your loved ones, enroll in a NAMI Family-to-Family course at a location near you. It is a free, eight-session program for caregivers of people with mental illness.
When a loved one with schizophrenia refuses treatment
If your loved one does not want to take medication or see a psychiatrist because of negative experiences with this in the past, it is important that you hear their concerns and help them try something new if the medication they are taking is not working for them. They feel good.
If your loved one refuses treatment for schizophrenia and their symptoms worsen, it may be time to get additional help. It can be difficult emotionally and legally to force a person with a mental disorder into treatment, but if a loved one becomes dangerous, friends and family members may need to call the police to get the person to the hospital, according to NAMI.
Outpatient treatment (also known as outpatient adherence) is available in most states. It states that people participate in their own treatment and gives the state the power to bring them to a treatment center if they don’t go on their own. Local NAMI chapters may have information on doctors or outreach services near you who can help.
Supporting a loved one during treatment for schizophrenia
Once a person begins treatment for schizophrenia, family and friends should be on the lookout for signs of relapse–new hallucinations, delusions, suicidal tendencies, social withdrawal, disorganized thinking, and difficulty communicating–which often signal a person to discontinue medication.
“If family members or friends see that a person spends a lot of time alone or doesn’t want to do things they previously found enjoyable, it’s time to contact a doctor,” says Tatiana Alexandra Falcone, MD, a Cleveland psychiatrist. Clinic in Ohio. “It is very important to recognize changes in behavior early during a psychotic detachment from reality,” which can lead to fatal consequences.
Estimates vary, but an analysis of data from previous studies was published in May 2023 by the journal Current opinion in psychiatry It found that people with schizophrenia are about six times more likely to attempt suicide than people without the disease.
Once your loved one begins to recover, try to find a happy medium between doing a lot for them and doing little to help. The goal is to help them build the independence and confidence they need to take care of themselves.
“Think about what you can do to help improve their lives,” says Dr. Diamond. “Could you go to the gym together, help them get a volunteer or part-time job, meet for lunch, or go to church?” This kind of support is invaluable for people with schizophrenia.