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6 Tips for Schizophrenia Caregivers

Help your loved one and yourself thrive when coping with this serious mental illness.

Medically reviewed in April 2021

“You need family members with a clear understanding that this is an illness,” says John Preston, PsyD, a neuropsychologist and professor emeritus with Alliant International University in Sacramento, CA. “It’s a necessity to take your medications. It’s not a matter of a person trying harder.”

But even family members who know this can have a hard time. “The behavior of people who have schizophrenia often pushes people away,” Preston says. “It’s not their intention, but people in their lives are often uneasy around them and see them as being crazy. When they have a psychotic episode, they can do things that are embarrassing or bizarre. Lots of times, family members get burned out.”

Being a good caregiver to someone who has schizophrenia takes patience and determination, but it's critical to your loved one’s recovery. Here’s what you can do to help your loved one and yourself.

  • Watch for side effects. Schizophrenia is often treated with medications called neuroleptics (also known as antipsychotics). These medications can cause side effects, including a disorder called tardive dyskinesia, which causes involuntary movements. These movements can include repetitive, jerky motions in the face and limbs, including grimacing, blinking, sticking out the tongue, tapping feet, waving fingers, rapid movements of arms or legs, and movements in the trunk or neck.
  • Be persistent about diagnosis and treatment. Schizophrenia is a complex illness that, on average, can take over 8 years to diagnose, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. It always requires treatment, but the exact regimen must be customized. 
  • Join a support group. Living with someone who has schizophrenia can be difficult and exhausting. Try joining NAMI’s Family-to-Family program, which helps family members meet other caregivers and develop coping skills.
  • Keep loved ones on a consistent routine. Staying on schedule can minimize stress and make daily life more predictable. Take your medication at the same time every day and practice healthy sleep habits. 
  • Be proactive about their health and medical care. Make sure your loved one takes his medications. Arrange visits with a psychiatrist, and make sure he gets there. Help your loved one make other healthy choices with good nutrition, regular exercise and adequate sleep.
  • Find support from schools and employers. If the person with schizophrenia is still in school, talk with appropriate officials about making accommodations. If she is working at a job, ask her supervisor about accommodations at work.

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