The Strength of Family Bonds in the Face of Schizophrenia: Navigating Together through Challenges
Schizophrenia is a condition that mercilessly attacks individuals. But in a larger sense, it is a disorder experienced by whole families, from those who are the most intimate with the diagnosed person to those who are more on the periphery. Families need to discuss schizophrenia openly and honestly, to make sure all questions are answered and doubts and concerns addressed. With a unified approach that refuses to sacrifice on wellness, extended families can collectively manage a loved one’s schizophrenia for the good of all.
A diagnosis of schizophrenia is shocking, especially for the person who has it and the people closest to them in their family. Spouses or romantic partners, parents, and siblings are often called on to perform heroic services to help loved ones who’ve developed the disabling symptoms of schizophrenia, which can be overcome but still present enormous challenges to functioning.
While those who are closest to a person with schizophrenia will be impacted the most, the effects of this disorder and its diagnosis can radiate outward, ultimately impacting members of the larger family unit. For example, the adjustments some must make to care for the person with schizophrenia can affect their relationships with other family members, as they may not have as much time to be there for others as they had in the past.
The schizophrenia diagnosis can be especially earth-shattering for those who’ve loved and enjoyed spending time with the person who has it. They may be afraid they’ll lose contact with that special person forever, based on the assumption that schizophrenia is too devastating to cope with or overcome.
Fortunately, schizophrenia doesn’t have to break families up or leave them feeling like much has been irrevocably lost. With professional guidance and assistance, schizophrenia can be effectively managed in a way that allows everyone in the family to contribute to the discovery of solutions, and the families that embrace a cooperative approach can emerge from this crisis closer than ever.
Confronting the Fear of Schizophrenia
The name ‘schizophrenia’ comes with many unfortunate and frightening associations. People think of schizophrenia as a disorder that causes hallucinations, delusions, and a serious break with reality in general. It is considered synonymous with severe mental illness, and people are afraid that if they’re with someone who has schizophrenia, something disastrous could happen at any moment.
One of the best ways to eliminate fears about schizophrenia is to make sure they’re given a complete and accurate accounting of its symptoms, including all of its potential mild, moderate, and severe manifestations. As a caregiver, you can help make sure members of the family have this information, so they will have a clearer understanding of what schizophrenia is and what it isn’t.
In its most advanced form, schizophrenia can cause serious and debilitating reactions. But it is a disorder that can be managed quite well through professional care and medication, and many people’s worst fears about it will turn out to be baseless when the condition is acknowledged, diagnosed, and aggressively treated.
Schizophrenia: What it Is and Isn’t
When you speak with them about your loved one’s diagnosis, you can explain to them that schizophrenia is in fact, a serious mental health disorder that causes varying degrees of disordered thinking.
The person who has it may indeed experience auditory or visual hallucinations, and their thinking, speech, and behavior may reflect the confusion they are feeling in their minds. Individuals with schizophrenia cannot easily be reasoned out of their beliefs and will hold onto them tenaciously no matter how hard anyone tries to convince them they are mistaken. Those who’ve fallen deep into the grip of schizophrenia will seem to lose their emotional connection to their reality and to other people, and they will retreat into themselves while exhibiting reactions consistent with depression or detachment from the social world.
Remember that this situation generally only holds for those who’ve advanced far into their schizophrenia and have yet to receive adequate help. If you’re proactive and seek help at the first sign of disturbance, you can catch schizophrenia and halt or slow its progression with the help of trained mental health care professionals.
In its early stages, schizophrenia is sometimes referred to as a prodromal syndrome. At this stage, it will cause a series of small changes in thinking and behavior that don’t completely disrupt functioning but do clearly illustrate that something is wrong and that some sort of break with reality is on the verge of occurring.
A person with prodromal syndrome may have trouble focusing and concentrating, and they may become irritable and be easily distracted. They may not report clear and unmistakable delusions or hallucinations, but they may still express views not in touch with their reality (and possibly even dangerous) to some extent.
Ideally, your loved one will have been diagnosed with schizophrenia in this early phase, and care will have begun before hallucinations and delusions become overwhelming. Either way, however, intervention can make a positive impact. Antipsychotic medications combined with regular therapy and other support services from medical and government organizations and family caregivers can make an enormous difference, enough to allow the person with schizophrenia to function and live a normal life in most ways.
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The Genetics of Schizophrenia Revealed
Once it is revealed that someone in the family has been diagnosed with schizophrenia, a lot of people will have questions. One of the most basic issues will concern the issue of genetic transmissibility. Both close and extended family members will want to know is schizophrenia an inherited condition and does its presence in one family member mean others could be at risk?
Unfortunately, the answer is ‘yes,’ there is a genetic component to schizophrenia that can be passed on between generations. The tendency to develop it isn’t necessarily high, but someone who comes from a family that has experienced schizophrenia could be more vulnerable themselves.
This knowledge should not cause anyone a high level of anxiety, however. Only about one percent of adults in the United States have been diagnosed with schizophrenia at some point in their lifetime, and while there is some underdiagnosis of the condition, its incidence is not as high as most other well-known forms of mental illness.
If you are the primary or secondary caregiver for a family member who has been diagnosed with schizophrenia, your knowledge of the condition could act as an invaluable resource for members of the extended family. It might be a good idea to call one or more family meetings, where anyone who has any doubts, questions, or concerns can attend and ask you anything they’d like about this scary condition.
You could help ease their fears about its genetic components, and that is valuable. Yet, at the same time, you can let them know what the earliest symptoms of schizophrenia look like, so they would be able to recognize its onset and take action quickly should it begin to manifest in someone else in the family. No matter how low the odds of that happening might be, people will feel more comfortable and safe if they’re able to identify the signs of schizophrenia for themselves.
Managing Schizophrenia for the Benefit of All
If you are in the caregiver role for a person with schizophrenia, you should make sure you take time to be with others in the family. You can’t afford to neglect your own health and welfare, regardless of how dedicated you are to the safety and happiness of your loved one. Ultimately, you can take a balanced approach to schizophrenia, helping as much as you can but without sacrificing yourself completely to your role as caregiver.
With respect to schizophrenia, your conversations with others in the family should keep them up-to-date in real-time. You can let them know the exact situation so they understand where progress has been made and also about what still needs to be done to help the person with schizophrenia cope.
If extended family members express a willingness to help in any way, such as driving your loved one to medical appointments or helping you with errands so you have time to do that, you should welcome their desire to participate and accept their help without reservation. People are generally eager to offer assistance when a loved one has been diagnosed with a mental illness, as long as they know exactly what they’re getting into and don’t have to worry about being overburdened with responsibilities they aren’t prepared to handle.
When schizophrenia is successfully treated, it won’t be a life-altering condition that changes everything forever, for you or for your loved one who has the condition. They can preserve quality relationships with others in the extended family, and so can you, and when you all decide to pull together and support each other, the effects of mental illness don’t have to be destructive or damaging to the family dynamic in any way. In fact, your family might emerge from their encounter with schizophrenia more unified than ever before.