My Son Is a Schizophrenic: Our Family Journey Through Long-Term Treatment

Schizophrenia is a very serious mental illness. It causes symptoms and complications that make it challenging to live a normal or satisfying life. Treatment is absolutely necessary in order to control symptoms and restore function. This complicated illness is best managed with residential treatment that provides long-term care, a safe environment, and the tools and skills to transition back to daily life at home. The stories of families who have been through the treatment process with a loved one can help those just now starting it.

Our son, James, developed schizophrenia in his late teens and went through a long treatment process beginning when he had just turned 20. The process proved to be challenging for us all, but ultimately so rewarding. He went from dropping out of college because he couldn’t function at all to living at home and taking classes at the local community college and working a part-time job. Without the residential treatment we got for James, I don’t know where we would be today.

How We Noticed the Signs of Schizophrenia

In retrospect, I feel like we should have noticed the signs that something was wrong much sooner. But that’s easy to say now. The symptoms of schizophrenia are unusual and should be obvious, but they snuck up on us. It’s hard to accept that your child may be delusional or hallucinating. My advice to parents is to not stick your head in the sand and to take any unusual behavior changes seriously.

What we first saw in our son was that his usually impeccable cleanliness and way of dressing started to slide. He didn’t shower every day anymore or brush his hair. Then some other behaviors seemed odd. Normally affectionate and sweet, he started to seem so emotionless. Even his tone of voice became flat.

We really knew something was wrong and that we needed to take action when James shared with us that he heard voices that told him someone was watching him and plotting against him. He got very paranoid, and when he talked about it neither my husband nor I could understand what he meant. His speech was racing and unorganized.

Hospitalization Came First

Unfortunately, these symptoms got bad very fast, and before we could get the help James needed he was arrested on campus. The police were very kind and never actually booked him. They picked him up and sent him to the local psychiatric hospital. We got the call and went to the hospital immediately. James had been physically restrained and medicated. He didn’t look like our son.

It was a terrible experience. To see James in a psychiatric ward broke our hearts. We decided right then that we would do whatever it took to make sure he would not need to be hospitalized and restrained like that again. It was this commitment that led us to find the best long-term residential treatment for him. We wanted to go all in and make sure he got this intensive treatment for as long as needed.

The Transition to Residential Treatment

With a diagnosis at the hospital of schizophrenia, we found a residential treatment center that worked with us to transition James into their care. The intake team did a great job of helping him feel comfortable. They also evaluated him thoroughly and confirmed the diagnosis. They screened him for other mental illnesses and substance use disorders.

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Medication Managed His Symptoms

James worked with a psychiatrist to find a medication that worked best for him. The staff was really patient with him as he tried a few different types. He did find a medication that managed the psychotic symptoms, and this helped him get stable and be able to focus on therapy without the interruptions of delusions and hallucinations.

At this point, being in residential care was important because James didn’t like taking the medication. The side effects weren’t severe, but they did make him a little uncomfortable. I feel that if he had been at home we would have really struggled to get him to take the medication regularly. The staff in treatment helped manage his medication so he could get the long-term benefits of it.

Therapy and Life Skills Gave Our Son a Future

Admittedly, it was tempting to assume that James could rely on medication to get better. The transformation we saw was fast and huge, but we knew that it would not be enough. The team working on developing his overall treatment plan explained to us that they would use a combination of behavioral therapies and practical skills to help James learn to manage his illness.

After just a few weeks, we visited James and got an update on his treatment. He had been going through intensive cognitive behavioral therapy with a great therapist. His improvements were noticeable. He told us he was learning how to recognize the onset of schizophrenia symptoms, how to cope with them, and how to make positive changes to his thinking that we could tell was already rebuilding his confidence.

The therapy was great, but what really made us hopeful for James’ future were the social and other practical skills they taught him in treatment. He got to interact with other people to practice relational skills. They even participated together in outdoor activities and adventure therapies, which was perfect for James, who has always been an athlete.

How Family Therapy and Education Made the Difference

One of the things we really liked about the treatment center was that they took a family-focused approach to care. We got involved in a lot of the process of treatment, including education just for us. One of the most important things we learned was that, while there is no cure for schizophrenia, it is manageable. Most people with schizophrenia are able to live well and get better with treatment. In other words, we had hope.

We also learned how to cope as the parents of an adult child with schizophrenia. We joined a support group for families, and we shared our experiences while also learning from those of others. We got great advice on how to support James when the residential treatment period came to an end.

What we would really like for other families to learn from our story is that schizophrenia is treatable. James is now living at home again, but he is back in school and even has a job a few days a week. He has some bad days and challenges, but with the skills he learned in treatment he manages to take control. Together we feel like we beat this illness. No, it will never go away, but it hasn’t beaten us.

If you’re concerned about a loved one and believe they may need residential care, we can help. BrightQuest offers long-term treatment for people struggling with complex mental health illnesses and co-occurring disorders. Contact us to learn more about our renowned program and how we can help you or your loved one start the journey toward recovery.