Social Isolation, Schizophrenia, and Your Family: When Your Relationships and Activities Are Impacted by a Loved One’s Diagnosis
Schizophrenia is a severe mental illness that causes psychosis, disorganized thinking and speech patterns, unusual behaviors and agitation, and difficulty interacting with and relating to other people. Family members of someone with schizophrenia also experience complications, such as their own mental illnesses, strained relationships, and social isolation. Families must get good treatment for their loved one, use all sources of support available, schedule time for themselves, and maintain a low-stress home to minimize these challenges.
Any mental illness can be disruptive to family life, but schizophrenia’s symptoms are particularly difficult. The hallucinations, paranoia, difficulty communicating, and changes in affect or unusual behaviors often leave families feeling helpless, distressed, embarrassed, and isolated.
Trying to cope with this condition and support a loved one also puts a big strain on relationships. Once you understand the challenges and how to manage this mental illness, you can make changes that will benefit everyone in the family.
How Schizophrenia Impacts Everyone
Whether it’s a teenager still living at home, a college student, or an adult hoping to live independently, a diagnosis of schizophrenia has a big effect on everyone in a family. Siblings may get less attention from their parents; parents feel helpless and inadequate to caring for a child; everyone may feel as if life revolves around the person with this difficult condition.
There are many ways that a family member’s schizophrenia affects others in the family and home, but some are more common and well documented:
- Feelings of embarrassment and shame over symptoms and episodes
- Sacrificing time to care for the individual, especially for mothers
- Strained relationship between the mother and the father
- Depression and anxiety in the other family members
- Poor or limited professional support
- Poor social support
- Social isolation due to constraints on activities and social events
- Distress when trying to manage problematic behaviors
- Disruptions to routine in the household and other family members’ activities
- Less attention for other children from parents
- Financial and legal difficulties
Studies have also reported that family members of someone with schizophrenia have more physical health issues. There may be many other impacts as well. Each family is different and has unique responses to caring for a loved one with schizophrenia. There are important, concrete steps your family can take to make life with schizophrenia more manageable for everyone.
Start With Treatment
Schizophrenia can feel like a hopeless condition at times. But it is a myth that this illness cannot be treated or managed, that someone with this diagnosis is doomed. Schizophrenia is treatable with therapy, medication, and family support.
The foundation for managing this illness is expert treatment. You may want to consider getting your loved one into a residential program. Severe mental illnesses are more difficult to treat, so individuals benefit from having a few months in a safe, rehabilitative environment with intensive therapy and medication monitoring.
When your family member returns home from care, continue with treatment for the best results and the most effective management of symptoms. This may mean continuing with therapy on an outpatient basis, keeping up with medications and monitoring symptoms and side effects, attending family therapy sessions, and taking advantage of programs that teach life skills, independence, and career skills.
Push for More Support
Support is so important for being able to manage schizophrenia. The more members of the family who can contribute to and share the burden of care, the less pressure and stress one primary caregiver will have. Of course, roles will vary. For instance, a child should not be expected to spend significant time caring for an older sibling. But they can still contribute in useful ways, such as doing activities with their sibling or participating in family discussions and therapy.
Community and professional support are also essential. Look for and take advantage of all services available to your family: professional treatment and group therapy; online or community support groups; life skills training programs or vocational classes for the individual with schizophrenia; and family education programs to learn about schizophrenia and how to manage it. Organizations like the National Alliance on Mental Illness can help you find local resources. Also consider getting individual therapy for any family member struggling to cope with the situation.
Reduce Stress in the Home as Much as Possible
Stress tends to worsen symptoms of schizophrenia or trigger new episodes. If you can keep the home and family as stress-free as possible, it will benefit. It’s easy for tempers to flare and frustrations to boil over, but when the environment is calm, symptoms and their resulting family complications will decrease.
One important way to maintain a lower-stress home is to have regular schedules. People with schizophrenia respond well to routine. Have meals at the same time every day, schedule chores and errands in advance, and use a clear calendar everyone can access and easily refer to for expectations for a day, week, or month.
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The degree of independence someone with schizophrenia can have varies, so start where your loved one is and take small steps. For instance, if you have a teenager with schizophrenia, help them become more independent by taking responsibility for their treatment and self-care. This will take pressure off other family members and help prepare your child for more independence when they’re older.
For an adult child, start looking at options for more residential independence. Maybe you have a separate entrance to the home, so they can have their own space within the house. Residences that help people with severe mental illness are also available and provide degrees of independence but with supervision. Get your child’s therapist involved in making decisions about the best type of living arrangement and how much it is appropriate to push for independence.
Let All Family Members Have Their Own Time
Social isolation is a big issue with schizophrenia, for many reasons. The primary caregiver may simply not have time to socialize; siblings may be too embarrassed to have friends around; and financial struggles may prevent the family from spending much time outside of the house. There are also less direct ways that schizophrenia can isolate family members. For instance, a sibling may be at a greater risk for developing their own mental illnesses. Anxiety or depression is isolating.
Because this disease is isolating, it is important to make time for socializing and for each member of the family to have their own free time. Siblings can benefit from dedicated alone-time with parents, for instance. Caregivers should be given time off to go out with friends or engage in other activities they enjoy. Creating a routine and schedule is helpful in making sure everyone gets their own free time.
Above all, make sure all members of the family are getting what they need. While much of the time and energy needs to be focused on the individual with schizophrenia, everyone needs support. With solid and ongoing treatment, a routine and low-stress home, all available support, and a dedication to make sure everyone gets time off and therapy if needed, your family can live well with this illness.
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 schizoaffective disorders, schizophrenia, and severe bipolar as well as co-occurring substance use disorders and process addictions. Contact us to learn more about our renowned program and how we can help you or your loved one start the journey toward recovery.