The need for a strong support system cannot be overstated. Recovering from a major illness whether that illness is cancer, heart attack, a spinal cord injury, or a severe mental disorder such as schizophrenia is hard work. In the case of paranoid schizophrenia, this process may take months or years. A strong support system is anyone or anything around you who helps you survive your disorder. They are a source of encouragement, especially when times are tough. Instead of feeling sorry for you, they challenge you, even if that challenge is something as simple as taking a shower or smoking one less cigarette a day. A strong support system is one that ultimately makes you feel better. They are people who care.
As many psychologists have told me, positive reinforcement is a very strong motivator. Encouraging and rewarding anyone’s beneficial behaviors is a great way to shape their behavior. For example, if your loved one is not particularly fond of personal hygiene, a symptom of schizophrenia, bribe him. Offer to get him ice cream or some other reward. There is nothing in the “books” that says you can’t or shouldn’t make deals with your loved one. Besides, demanding that he keep himself clean will only aggravate your situation. Deal-making can be a creative way to help your loved one.
Psychiatric service dogs can be great supports. These dogs are trained to perform certain tasks, one of which is the identification of hallucinations. For more information on psychiatric service dogs, type “psychiatric service dogs” into your web browser.
Support groups are also a resource for support. People with schizophrenia don’t tend to go to support groups. Thankfully, there are good online support groups available. The National Alliance on Mental Illness and schizophrenia.com have message boards available for free.
A note to caregivers:
Education is key when dealing with this disorder. Find out as much as you can about your loved one’s disorder. With education comes understanding; with understanding comes patience, a much-needed commodity when helping someone who has this disorder and who may hate you for your attempts to help.
Finally, realize that you are going to make mistakes. You are human. When you feel overwhelmed, take a break. Go for a walk, get an ice cream sundae, do something to re-energize your batteries. You’ll need it for yourself and for your loved one.