Supporting a Family Member or Friend Who Has Schizophrenia

Schizophrenia requires lifelong treatment to improve function and reduce suffering in people who have the disorder. Mental health care providers and other professionals work together to help manage schizophrenia—and family members and/or close friends often play an important role as well.

Without treatment, many people with schizophrenia cannot hold a job or care for themselves. They often rely on others for help.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), caring for a loved one with schizophrenia can be difficult—especially at the onset of the disorder. Many people who have schizophrenia resist treatment—believing that their hallucinations and delusions are real.

Laws regulating forcing a patient to accept treatment—including hospitalization, if necessary—vary from state to state. If a loved one with schizophrenia—or another mental illness—becomes a danger to him- or herself or to others and concerns about safety arise, a family member or friend may have to call the local police.

Emergency treatment for schizophrenia usually involves an evaluation by a mental health care provider in an ER. Information from friends and family members can help the doctor evaluate the patient’s condition to determine if voluntary or involuntary admission is necessary. According to the NIMH, the health care provider must witness psychotic behavior and hear the patient express delusional thoughts to hospitalize the patient with schizophrenia against his/her will.

Following hospitalization, people who have schizophrenia often are discharged into their families' care. Therefore, it's important for family members to learn as possible about the disorder. A therapist can help family members learn problem-solving skills and coping strategies.

Long-term Support for a Loved One with Schizophrenia

Follow-up care for patients who have schizophrenia is very important. Family members and friends often can help people with the disorder adhere to their treatment plan—by taking them to follow-up appointments, making sure they take their medication(s) as directed, etc. Loved ones should learn where to find outpatient and family services.

Discontinuing schizophrenia treatment is dangerous and can cause symptoms to return and/or worsen. Severe symptoms can prevent people with schizophrenia from taking care of themselves. Untreated schizophrenics may end up in jail or on the street—preventing them from getting the help they need.

Family members and friends can provide valuable support to people with schizophrenia—helping them learn to function better and set realistic goals It's important for friends and family members not to criticize or pressure too much—offering encouragement often is the best way to help a person with mental illness.

If you have a loved one who has schizophrenia, it can be difficult to know how to respond to strange or clearly inaccurate statements. Because his or her beliefs and hallucinations seem very real in his or her mind, it doesn't help the situation to point out that they are imaginary or incorrect.

However, going along with delusion(s) isn't helpful either. The NIMH recommends saying that you see things differently and everyone has the right to see things his or her own way.

Remember, schizophrenia is a biological condition. Showing respect and kindness—without tolerating inappropriate or dangerous behavior—is a good way to support a loved one who has schizophrenia.

Source: National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at

Published: 07 Jul 2014

Last Modified: 09 Jul 2014