What Can You Do if Your Friend Has Schizophrenia?

Being close to a person with schizophrenia can be really scary. It's a clinical entity that society doesn't really understand. It's also surrounded by myths. In this article, we want to talk about some helpful strategies.
What Can You Do if Your Friend Has Schizophrenia?

Last update: 28 November, 2022

Before explaining what you should do if your friend has schizophrenia, we’ll explain a little about this disorder. It’s a disease that afflicts one percent of the world population affecting both genders equally. The first symptoms begin to manifest when sufferers are in their teens or a little later. It can be a chronic illness, but can also occur in a single episode. However, whatever your friend’s case may be, your support and understanding will undoubtedly be paramount.

Scientific evidence claims that schizophrenia isn’t a single disease, but a group of diseases based on common symptoms. They differ in how they respond to treatment and in their prognosis.

woman with schizophrenia
Schizophrenia is a serious mental disorder that affects the way the sufferer thinks, feels, and behaves.

Schizophrenia

People with schizophrenia experience dramatic distortion in their thoughts, feelings, language, and behavior. Experts have identified a series of symptoms. When these occur more excessively than they should, they’re called positive symptoms. On the other hand, when they occur less than they should, they’re called negative symptoms.

  • Positive symptoms are those that add something new to your friend’s psychological life. For example, hallucinations (usually the hearing of voices) and delusions (implausible, fantastic ideas that aren’t shared by anyone else).
  • Negative symptoms are those that imply loss. You’ll have noticed that your friend has started to isolate themselves. They’ll be self-absorbed and careless in their personal grooming. They’ll also abandon hobbies that they used to enjoy, and be indifferent to their social and loving relationships. In addition, you may have noticed that their body often appears to be paralyzed.

Usually, some symptoms appear first. These are called prodromes. They involve an initial cognitive deterioration. Then, the positive symptoms appear in all their intensity. They subsequently give way to the negative symptoms. Sometimes, the sequence stops here. In other cases, it’ll occur in the form of outbreaks. They’re known as psychotic breaks.

The American Psychiatric Society (APA) states that, in order to diagnose schizophrenia, the positive symptoms must have lasted for at least one month. When it comes to both positive and negative symptoms, they should’ve lasted for at least six months.

“You see, the nightmare of schizophrenia is not knowing what is true.”

-Dr Rosen, A Beautiful Mind

What to do if your friend has schizophrenia

First, we’re going to dispel some of the frequent myths concerning schizophrenia:

  • “Schizophrenia is for life”. As a matter of fact, there’s a great variety in the course and outcome of schizophrenic disorders.
  • “People with schizophrenia are all alike”. As in the previous point, there’s a great deal of diversity. Indeed, the sufferer’s experience depends on individual factors as well as their context, not so much on the disease.
  • “I’ll only be able to help my friend when they’re on medication”. Help, therapy, and rehabilitation must start from the outset.
  • “Psychotherapy is worthless in schizophrenia. Only medication is important”. It’s been scientifically proven that intervening through psychotherapy in certain aspects produces great improvements.
  • “They’ll only take their medication if they’re constantly monitored”. Sufferers of schizophrenia can be educated to develop self-care habits.
  • “People with schizophrenia can’t work”. With help, sufferers can rehabilitate and reintegrate into society.

Recommendations for assistance

Once the diagnosis has been established by the qualified professional, certain behaviors should act as warning signs. The following list contains only some general examples. As a friend, you’ll need to meet with their family to come up with a more extensive list, so you can act together and help them.

  • Changes in the rhythm of sleep and in their normal activities.
  • Suspicious or reticent attitudes.
  • Being extremely concerned about unimportant circumstances.
  • Giving unusual importance to news or comments from the media.
  • Becoming obsessed with religion.
  • Feeling as if they’re the object of attention of strangers or those they don’t really know.
  • Abandonment of personal hygiene or self-care habits.
  • Staying isolated and self-absorbed for longer periods of time.

“Schizophrenia cannot be understood without understanding despair.”

-R.D. Laing-

Woman looking at her friend on the sofa
Listening and showing affection to sufferers of schizophrenia is extremely helpful.

How to help

Faced with the above symptoms, there are some useful attitudes you can adopt:

  • Make sure that they’re taking their antipsychotic medication in the prescribed form and dose.
  • Ask that their consultation with the psychiatrist be brought forward.
  • If they’re really short-tempered, irritable, or suspicious, it’s best to leave them alone and wait for them to calm down before talking to them.
  • Talk about topics that interest them. This is a good way of finding out how they are. That said, don’t push too hard to try to get information as, chances are, even they won’t know the answer. In fact, they’re likely to be confused and disoriented.
  • Listen to them. Listen at all times to what they say. Even if they disagree with you or say crazy things.
  • Respond more from feeling than content. Don’t get bogged down in a confrontation. This doesn’t mean that you have to go along with what they say. Indeed, you must make it clear that you’re aware of their suffering and that you have no intention of deceiving them.
  • Show them affection.
  • Have patience and tolerance.

Your friend’s parents will also have to create a strong alliance among themselves to support each other, so they can combine forces to take care of their child. However, if this alliance ever fails, your help will be even more necessary. That said, if you should find the situation overwhelming and feel emotionally uncomfortable, exhausted, stressed, or anxious, don’t hesitate to contact a mental health professional. They’ll be able to help you.

It might interest you...
The Phases of Schizophrenia
Exploring your mind
Read it in Exploring your mind
The Phases of Schizophrenia

Schizophrenia is a serious mental disorder that follows a specific course. You can learn about the different phases of schizophrenia here.

 



  • de Psiquiatría, S. E. Cómo afrontar la esquizofrenia.
  • Núñez Partido, J. P., Jódar Anchía, R., Meana Peón, R. J., & Ruiz Jiménez, M. T. (2013). Mi hermano tiene esquizofrenia.

The contents of Exploring Your Mind are for informational and educational purposes only. They don't replace the diagnosis, advice, or treatment of a professional. In the case of any doubt, it's best to consult a trusted specialist.