From experience, schizophrenia can be an extremely debilitating illness if not managed properly. Schizophrenia can be described as a condition leaving one with a skewed perception of reality affecting many facets of their life, including their thought processes, sense of self, and emotional regulation.

In laymen’s terms, someone with this mental illness hears voices and believes that their reality is something that it isn’t. Loss of interest occurs. For me, my ability to connect to people was no longer present; my thoughts were jumbled, and when I would talk, it would just be incoherent words.

If I had known then what I know now, my life would have gotten back on track much sooner. I’ve created my list below to help those whose loved ones have been diagnosed.

1. Educate Yourself on Schizophrenia said it best: “Many people have heard of schizophrenia, but this doesn’t mean that they understand the diagnosis.” For example, a common misconception is the idea that schizophrenia is when people have a split personality (see dissociative disorders). The first step towards empathy is understanding, and the first step towards understanding is education. Once you understand the symptoms, it will be easier to look for warning signs and to help your loved one during a crisis. To aid in your understanding, I recommend reading personal stories of those living with this mental illness, such as Joshua’s story.

2. Empowerment

After a diagnosis, it’s hard to focus on anything positive. Empowerment for your loved one will help them to take ownership of their situation and reduce the feeling of helplessness. Some ways to empower someone include:

  • Validating their feelings.
  • Tactfully, normalizing can reduce feelings of isolation. For example, did you know that many important figures in our culture throughout history lived with schizophrenia? Mary Todd Lincoln and Albert Einstein’s son, Eduard Einstein, both had this condition.
  • Check blogs and forums to see what your loved one may go through. Most common schizophrenia stories will offer you information on how someone develops schizophrenia and how it feels like to live with it. For your loved one it may not be as easy to share their feelings but learning that there are others like them may offer comfort.
  • Advocating for them and engaging them in activism aiding others with dealing with mental illness. Examples of this can be as simple as bringing awareness to the public through social media or creating a local support group to help others in your loved one’s community.

3. Maintain Your Relationships

I lost many friends because of my illness; some of it was because during an episode, my emotional capacity wasn’t normal, but mostly it was because social situations stressed me out and I felt that people were judging me. If someone was aware of my diagnosis, they walked on eggshells around me, further alienating me. However, maintaining relationships is important. My mom is my rock; having such a strong relationship with her has made me feel safer and has eased my stress. The benefit of my relationship with her has vastly aided in my recovery after having a schizophrenic break.

4. Stress Management

A study in 2016 finally linked dopamine dysregulation to the pathophysiology of schizophrenia. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter our body produces to send messages throughout the body. It plays a major role in reward-driven behavior, but also sends messages to other parts of the body to make sure they’re functioning properly. Stress depletes dopamine. Help your loved one recognize their stressors and brainstorm ways to reduce them. Sometimes it’s extremely difficult to think of enjoyable or relaxing activities when you’re dealing with schizophrenia, so ideas from a support system that can be trusted is a lifesaver.

Sometimes, stress simply can’t be avoided. Begin practicing relaxation techniques with your loved one that they can use during stressful situations. Breathing techniques and mindfulness meditation can reduce your heart rate and cortisol (AKA the “stress hormone”). My favorite exercise is progressive muscle relaxation.

Additionally, take care of yourself. Supporting a loved one with schizophrenia can be draining, especially during hard times. Remember: you can’t pour from an empty cup. To better help someone, you need to make sure that you’re actively engaging in self-care, whether that’s taking a ten-minute walk alone after dinner or taking a hot bubble bath.

5. Safety Planning

There are very rare cases where people have been cured of their schizophrenic symptoms. But for most of us, like me, schizophrenia is an ongoing reality. My mom is now my main support; what would have helped her and I both in the early stages of my diagnosis is if we had planned ahead for an inevitable episode. I had been doing well on my medication, so when I had my first bad week after being “stable” for a few months, my mom was caught off guard and wasn’t able to help me as well as she could. When your loved one is feeling well, make sure to begin crisis planning and create advanced directions to rely on.

6. Final thoughts

Even though popular culture seems to pity those with this illness and writes us off as a lost cause, schizophrenia does not have to be a death sentence. With the right support and resources, it’s possible for people with schizophrenia to have meaningful relationships and fulfilling lives.

Mike Jones, blogger at Schiz Life, was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 2003. Since then, he has immersed himself into the schizophrenic community where he helps others who are fighting the daily fight. Mike is passionate about health and cycling.