Parenting an Adult Child with Schizoaffective Disorder
Parents of adult children with serious mental illnesses, like schizoaffective disorder, face a big challenge. An adult child can be resistant to treatment, but getting good care is essential. Parents must insist on treatment, preferably residential care that provides both medical care and therapy. They should also learn more about the illness and how to help a child move on after treatment. It is important that caregivers have their own support and get mental health care for themselves if necessary.
As a parent, you expect that when your child has grown and is an adult that he will be independent and happy, that your work will be done. But, when your adult child is diagnosed with a serious mental illness like schizoaffective disorder, all the hope you had for your child can come crashing down.
You can help your son or daughter in the process of learning to live with this disease by offering non-judgmental support, providing practical necessities like housing, by taking care of yourself, and most importantly by getting him or her into treatment.
What is Schizoaffective Disorder?
Schizoaffective disorder is a very serious mental illness that can cause significant disability. It is characterized by psychotic symptoms of schizophrenia as well as mood symptoms of bipolar disorder. The exact symptoms vary by individual, but generally may include:
- Delusions and hallucinations
- Difficulty communicating, racing or confused thoughts and speech
- Poor social functioning or social isolation
- Difficulty managing self-care
- Regular depressed moods, with sadness, guilt, fatigue, and loss of interest in activities
- Manic moods characterized by high energy and activity levels, impulsive behaviors, restlessness, and irritability
Some people with schizoaffective disorder will experience both manic and depressed moods and episodes, while others only have depressive episodes. The age of onset can vary, but most people begin experiencing symptoms before the age of 35.
Diagnosing Schizoaffective Disorder
If your child is showing signs of mental illness, the first and best thing you can do for him is to get an evaluation for a diagnosis. The only way to diagnose mental illness is to work with an experienced mental health professional. There can be significant overlap of symptoms between this condition, schizophrenia, mood disorders, and even trauma disorders or substance use disorders.
It is also possible that your son or daughter is struggling with more than one mental illness or schizoaffective disorder along with substance abuse. Getting a diagnosis for all conditions is essential for being able to take the next, crucial step, which is treatment.
The Importance of Long-Term Treatment
Once your adult child has a diagnosis, it is absolutely essential that you insist on treatment. You may face resistance, but long-term, intensive treatment is the only way that he or she will learn to live with this chronic illness. Residential treatment includes medical care and the chance to find the right medication that is most effective with the fewest side effects.
A residential program is also an opportunity to benefit from intensive therapy, where your child will learn coping strategies, how to recognize the onset of symptoms, how to manage and change negative thoughts and behaviors, and other important ways to live a more normal life with schizoaffective disorder.
It’s possible, and likely even, that your adult child will need to be or has already been hospitalized for stabilization. This is a sometimes necessary part of treatment because he or she will not be ready for ongoing care in a psychotic or unstable state. But don’t make the mistake of thinking that a short stay in the hospital is adequate.
Hospitalization is a temporary solution. Your son or daughter will need ongoing care to achieve greater symptom control, to be more independent, to have fewer episodes of psychosis, mania, and depression, and to avoid being hospitalized again in the future.
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After Treatment – Caring for Your Adult Child
Treatment in a residential facility will help your son or daughter learn important skills for managing schizoaffective disorder. With this solid foundation of treatment, along with any necessary medications, your child will be able to return home, either to stay with you or, if possible, to live independently. Being the active caregiver for an adult child with serious mental illness can be challenging, and there are some important considerations to make as you face this situation:
- Be supportive, without judgment. Your adult child needs support, but resist the urge to judge, be overly demanding, or criticize. He is struggling and trying to manage this very difficult illness. Listen, show that you are trying to understand, and help him to feel that he is heard. Ask questions about what he needs to feel safe, loved, and understood, and try to provide it.
- Set boundaries. Just because your child has a mental illness does not mean he should be allowed to do or say anything. Set boundaries that you need to feel safe and healthy, but that will also help him manage his condition. For instance, put a limit on negative language or set aside specific times for getting time apart from each other.
- Know when you need more help. Sometimes a parent is not the best caregiver for an adult child with mental illness, or should not be the sole caregiver. You may want to be the one to provide what your child needs, but recognize your limitations. Ask for help sharing the caregiving duties with other family members if necessary.
- Insist on ongoing treatment. Long-term residential care is a great foundation for managing schizoaffective disorder, but your child is not cured. This condition is chronic, and ongoing, regular therapy is important. Consider trying family therapy too, as this can help you and other family members learn more about the illness and how to best help your adult child.
Take Care of You
Caregivers of people with serious mental illness also suffer. It is not an easy job, and by caring for an adult child with schizoaffective disorder you are susceptible to mental health issues, too. In a study of parents of adult children with bipolar disorder, researchers found that they had more physical and mental health symptoms than other parents. They also had more struggles in their marriages and with work-life balance.
Parenting an adult child with schizoaffective disorder can take a toll. It’s important for your own health, and to be able to continue caring for your son or daughter, that you get support, assistance, and if necessary, treatment for yourself.
One of the most important things you can do to manage your own mental health in this situation is to rely on a strong social support network. This may mean having other family members step in to take over caregiving while you take a break or just having friends or family to spend time with, talk to, and blow off steam and relax with while engaging in fun activities.
It’s also important that you take time off and do things for yourself. Don’t get lost in care for your adult child. Make time for the activities you enjoy, to spend time with friends, and to do things that are relaxing to you, whether that means working out or having a quiet bath. You can only care for your child if you are well. And if you think your mental health is suffering, consider seeing a therapist for help.
Having an adult child diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder can turn your world upside down. You thought your role as caregiver was done, but now your son or daughter needs you again. Get your child into treatment, learn about the condition and how to best help him or her, and make sure you are not doing this alone. Rely on family, friends, and professionals to support you as you become a caregiver.
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.