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How Friends and Family Members can Help with Mental Illness

separator Having a close friend or family member who has schizophrenia isn’t usually an easy road. But your support can mean the difference between having your loved one safe and taking medication, or on the streets, off medication and without sufficient food or shelter.

Patients with schizophrenia generally are discharged from the hospital and into the care of their family. That’s why family members need to learn everything they can about the disease, the patient’s medications and ways to make sure their loved adheres to the treatment plan.

Probably two of the most supportive things you can do for your schizophrenic loved one are to make sure he or she keeps taking prescribed medication and to ensure that there’s an ongoing, trusting relationship with a doctor, usually a psychiatrist.

People with schizophrenia often resist taking medication, because they believe their hallucinations are real. In other words, they don’t think psychiatric help is necessary. Here are some of the things family members can do to be “in tune” with their loved ones.

Use medication calendars or pill boxes labeled with the days of the week so you can help keep track of when pills have been taken. Consider using electronic timers that beep when pills need to be taken, or pair medication taking with the same activities every day, such as meals. Make sure your loved one keeps medical appointments regularly.

Learn when you should suspect your loved one is not being compliant. These are some of the signs:

  • The patient says the doctor has said he or she should stop taking the medication. It’s common for schizophrenics to say this, but it’s often not true.
  • The patient isn’t getting prescriptions filled or isn’t interested in talking about setting up a plan for keeping up with the medication
  • Schizophrenic symptoms seem to be getting worse, or side effects of the medication seem to be getting better

There are all kinds of reasons that schizophrenics stop taking their medication. They may be doing particularly well on the drugs and think they may not need the medication anymore. They may come in contact with people who try to convince them that drugs are not beneficial. They may think the side effects are too severe. They may discontinue medical supervision, which often leads to a decrease in compliance rates. 

One thing family members need to keep in mind at all times: if their loved one is becoming a danger to himself or to others, it’s time to get him to the hospital. This can be a wrenching decision, but most of the time, patients admit later that hospitalization was the best thing that could have happened.

The American Psychiatric Association, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, Washington, D.C., 2000; H. Kaplan, B. Sadock, J. Grebb, Synopsis of Psychiatry, Williams and Wilkins, 1994; National Institute of Mental Health.
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