Family Relationships

Family support and understanding is very important for individuals who have schizophrenia. This is true throughout the person’s life, but especially when the illness first appears. Often it is a family member who first notices the changes in behavior which occur as symptoms become active. Since many individuals, particularly males, are still living at home as adolescents or young adults when schizophrenia first develops, family plays a very crucial role.

A diagnosis of schizophrenia can be very devastating not only to the individual, but to his/her family as well. Parents often have high hopes for their child and the diagnosis of such a serious mental illness can be very difficult to accept. Unless effort is made to truly understand the nature and challenges of schizophrenia, significant frustration, anger, disappointment and conflict can make the situation even worse for everyone involved.

Family education and therapy

Family education and therapy can greatly benefit both the patient and his/her family. Understanding the illness will help everyone towards developing realistic expectations. Also, learning about the disorder is especially helpful for family members so that they can then recognize the early indicators of a relapse.

Family therapy can help facilitate communication amongst family members. It can help each person find ways to cope with the difficult emotions that often arise when trying to deal with such a difficult diagnosis. Family therapy and education can also help each person know how to deal with the patient and his/her symptoms when they appear. For example, if the patient is experiencing hallucinations or delusions, trying to play along with them or dispute them is not necessarily the best choice.

The importance of family support

A supportive family environment can be instrumental in helping someone with schizophrenia live a more full and productive life. Not only can family members help the person stay involved socially rather than becoming isolated, they can help the person learn to navigate challenging situations, such as awkward social situations.

Families can also play a key role in helping the schizophrenic individual stick with his/her treatment program. Family members can provide gentle encouragement and reminders to take medications and keep appointments, as well as accompanying the patient to the appointments if needed. Adhering to treatment will greatly reduce the risks of relapse.

written by Dr. Cheryl Lane, PsyD

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