Schizophrenia: What It Is, Treatment Options & Support For Caregivers

Overview of Condition

Schizophrenia is a long-term disorder of the mind that can affect how an individual thinks, feels, and behaves. It’s associated with a loss of contact with reality and can be diagnosed by identifying persistent symptoms such as: delusions, hallucinations, decreased levels of energy, reduced range of emotions, or disorganized thought process, speech, or behavior. Another symptom is often anosognosia.(What is anosognosia?)




Combined or separately, this range of symptoms can lead to a time of intense confusion and disorientation for the individual affected as well as for parents of children with schizophrenia, other family caregivers, and anyone dealing with schizophrenia. But there’s help and some practical ways that the right support, knowledge, and tactics can improve the path of schizophrenia.


MyHealios is the proud recipient of the 2016 National Council Award of Excellence:

"Engaging Family Caregivers in Team-Based Care"


What Is Schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia is a chronic mental illness commonly diagnosed between the ages of 15 and 35. It’s attributed to abnormal functioning of the brain. While there is currently no known cause for schizophrenia, research has identified a combination of factors that can increase the risk of developing the disorder including genetics, childhood adversity, increased levels of dopamine, and drug use. For anyone who is caring for someone with schizophrenia, adequate support and information is often critical. Keep reading to learn more and to find out how MyHealios can assist you and your loved ones as you’re dealing with schizophrenia.

Signs/Symptoms

Symptoms of schizophrenia can vary but generally fall into two categories; positive and negative symptoms.

Positive symptoms refer to symptoms that are additional to normal human experiences and distort psychological – mental or emotional -- function.

Negative symptoms refer to behavioral changes that suggest a decrease or loss of normal psychological functioning. 

Positive Symptoms

Hallucinations

A person suffering from schizophrenia may, hear, see, smell, taste or feel something that is not actually there. He or she may be seen responding to internal stimuli such as voices that only he or she can hear. These stimuli are very real to the affected individual but may seem false or “imaginary” to those around them.

Delusions

With schizophrenia, affected individuals may fervently believe in certain things that have no evidence or basis in reality. These unshakable beliefs are called delusions and delusions can, in turn, contribute to paranoid thoughts, such as beliefs in conspiracies or impending danger. Other common experiences with delusions include:

  • Feelings of grandiosity (unrealistic feelings of superiority)
  • Thought broadcasting (belief that others can hear or know the affected individual’s internal thoughts)
  • Experiences of “external control” (feeling that others, outside of themselves are controlling internal thoughts or actions.)

Disorganized Thought Process

A person suffering from schizophrenia often has trouble with mental clarity. This may include a change in his or her rate of thinking.

Thought processes may become rapid and the affected individual may jump quickly from thought to thought with no apparent connection between those thoughts. Alternatively, thought processing with schizophrenia can slow down or be “stunted.” Either way, the changes can contribute to disorganized thinking or confusion.

Negative Symptoms

Change in Emotional Response

A person suffering from schizophrenia may exhibit a change in his or her emotional responses, such as not reacting quite as intensely or enthusiastically as was typical in the past

Low levels of activity

Some people may have difficulty finding the energy for normal daily activities. Family caregivers, parents of children with schizophrenia, and friends may find that they need to adjust their expectations of what their loved one will be able to do.

Isolation or Withdrawal

The individual affected by schizophrenia may feel less interested in spending time with family and friends and withdraw from previous interests and activities.

Anosognosia or Lack of Insight

What is anosognosia? Anosognosia is often referred to as “lack of insight” or “lack of awareness.” With anosognosia, the affected individual is unaware of his or her mental health and is unable to perceive his or her condition accurately. This symptom can make it difficult for the affected person to seek or continue with recommended treatments and can be particularly challenging for loved ones and caregivers. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), approximately 50% of individuals experiencing schizophrenia have anosognosia and cannot recognize that they are sick and need help. Fortunately, when patients with schizophrenia are able to take their prescribed medications as directed, their symptoms of anosognosia can be improved. Communication strategies can help loved ones, family members, and other caregivers to support their loved ones in the journey to this point and MyHealios services can help you to learn them. Find out more.

Treatment Options

While there is currently no cure for schizophrenia, there are treatment options available. With appropriate treatment and support, individuals with schizophrenia can lead normal lives as active members of society. Family caregivers, parents of children with schizophrenia, others caring for someone with schizophrenia, and anyone dealing with schizophrenia should be aware that treatments and therapies help to significantly decrease symptoms and improve functioning, but schizophrenia does not “go away.”

Often, treatment for schizophrenia includes a combination of antipsychotic medications, psychological and cognitive therapy, and other alternative therapies.

Antipsychotics

There are many different antipsychotics available in numerous forms (pills, fast-dissolving tablets, liquids, short-acting injectables, long-acting injectables, etc.) Given the nature of the illness, compliance to pharmaceutical treatment is very important but can be challenging. For this reason, evidence suggests that newer, longer-lasting injectable medications may be useful for patients and families, especially early in the course of the condition when helping to avoid relapse is a top priority. Today’s long-acting, injectable antipsychotic medications can provide medication coverage for two to four weeks or even as long as three months. Obviously, this can greatly help patients stick to their treatment plan – which is tantamount as it improves recovery potential, especially during the early stages of schizophrenia.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

In addition to the antipsychotic medications mentioned above, guidelines recommend that schizophrenia patients also participate in cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT – a service that MyHealios provides via confidential telehealth.

CBT is a form of talk therapy that can help individuals manage their symptoms by adjusting the way they think and behave. CBT is most commonly used to treat anxiety and depression, but has also shown efficacy in treating schizophrenia.

The RAISE Program

How can schizophrenia recovery be best supported? Evidence shows that if this disorder is well managed early on, if treatments are promptly started and sustained, there’s a higher likelihood that the patient will recover than if treatments are delayed. In the RAISE Early Treatment Program young adults recently diagnosed with schizophrenia receive multi-faceted treatment (medication, psychosocial therapies, and supportive services) and demonstrate great success.

At the heart of RAISE and its first-episode approach is the belief that family members (or loved ones) are essential to treatment success and therefore need effective education, skills training, and support.

Clinics across the U.S. participate in RAISE and families and caregivers are encouraged to seek RAISE care for their loved ones with schizophrenia as soon as possible after an initial psychotic event or schizophrenic episode. You may even seriously consider moving closer to a RAISE clinic site if necessary. All options should be considered to give patients the best chance of recovery.

Caring for someone with Schizophrenia

Schizophrenia symptoms like hallucinations, delusions, and disorganized thought process can be confusing, and cognitive deficits, fatigue, and perceived loss of motivation can impact relationships and home life and cause conflicts and stress. As you learn more about schizophrenia, or when the condition is first diagnosed in your loved one, it may not be clear how to help. But know this -- YOU can productively support your loved one as he or she lives with and manages schizophrenia.

Parents of children with schizophrenia, family caregivers, loved ones, and patients themselves -- working in collaboration with the right treatment team -- all play crucial parts in schizophrenia care and recovery. Indeed, for schizophrenia treatment to achieve the most results, families and loved ones are advised to be active participants in, and central to, the recommended regimen. Research has shown that the majority of the patients need sustained support from family and friends in order to make progress in recovery. In fact, families and caregivers are really at the heart of schizophrenia management and play crucial roles in helping individuals with schizophrenia to manage the disorder on a day-to-day basis

Does this sound overwhelming? Don’t worry. No one expects you to become a schizophrenia expert overnight and there’s training, education, and support available to help you learn about dealing with schizophrenia, schizophrenia symptoms, schizophrenia treatments, and schizophrenia daily management techniques and communication tactics. This sort of support helps caregivers, families and patients to improve medical outcomes, promote recovery, lessen stress, maintain balance, and live better day-by-day. Yes, it’s an ongoing, long-term effort, but statistics show that it gets results.

Trained, supported, prepared family caregivers and loved ones are able to address challenges (like anosognosia), foster treatment compliance, and productively engage with doctors and other members of the clinical treatment team --- all while preventing stressful miscommunications and potential relapse triggers.

If you’ve read this far, you may be under the impression that families and loved ones are always systematically integrated in schizophrenia treatment. Ideally this would always be the case. RAISE clinics and others that follow first-episode models do involve and families, caregivers, and loved ones – but other treatment teams may not. There are many reasons for this (lack of resources, lack of trained professionals in a geographic area, inconvenience/time pressures on families and caregivers, etc.). Fortunately, telehealth services for schizophrenia can overcome many of these barriers making expert-led, holistic care, training, and support of the individual with schizophrenia and his or her loved ones accessible, and affordable... anywhere.

As you embark or continue your journey dealing with schizophrenia in a loved one, remember to look after yourself as well. Caregiving is an important – crucial – role but you will only be able to sustain it if you also care for yourself and your own needs.

Approximately 63% of caregivers admit not having enough time for themselves and 55% admit that they don't have time to manage their own health. Visit your own physician routinely and ask him or her for advice and assistance regarding caregiving. Share your experiences and how they are affecting you and be sure to detail any symptoms that you are noticing in yourself such as depression, insomnia or anxiety. For your health and wellness, and that of your family, your medical needs are important, too.

Seek more information. Seek support. And learn more about the valuable schizophrenia therapies provided by MyHealios.

Key Facts

  • chizophrenia is a condition that affects thinking, feeling and behavior and causes people to have abnormal experiences.
  • There is no single cause for schizophrenia and it is still not fully understood. It is likely to be caused by a combination of factors but it’s no one’s “fault.”
  • Schizophrenia is most likely first manifest between the ages of 15 and 35 and affects about 1% of the population.
  • ¥ Many people think that schizophrenia makes people violent - this is the exception, not the rule. People with schizophrenia are actually more likely to be victims of violence and are at greater risk of hurting themselves than of being hurting others.