Schizophrenia is a mental health condition that involves a disconnect from reality.
Along with symptoms that affect concentration and memory, people living with schizophrenia experience psychosis, which includes hallucinations and delusions.
They might lose interest in their usual activities, struggle with self-care, and withdraw from loved ones.
These symptoms can have a far-reaching impact. Not only do they often make daily life difficult and contribute to emotional distress, they can also lead to isolation, sleep problems, or substance use — any of which can affect well-being and complicate treatment.
If your loved one lives with schizophrenia, you might wonder how you can best offer support. Here’s a look at seven ways to help, along with some tips on what to avoid.
Learn more about schizophrenia
When you recognize and understand the symptoms of schizophrenia, your loved one’s behavior may seem less confusing or frightening.
There’s a lot of stigma around schizophrenia, much of which relates to key symptoms of psychosis:
- Delusions, or beliefs not supported by factual evidence. They might believe someone is poisoning their food, that they have special powers, or that some outside organization controls their behavior.
- Hallucinations, or seeing, hearing, and feeling things no one else can. They might hear music, voices that say cruel things, or see (and touch) animals that aren’t really there.
- Cognitive symptoms, including trouble concentrating, speaking clearly, or answering questions. They might use words or phrases that don’t make sense, say things you can’t understand, or repeat the same phrases.
Someone with schizophrenia might believe they’re really a celebrity or a historic or religious figure.
Called a delusion of grandeur, this isn’t the same as dissociative identity disorder, where someone has a separate, additional personality.
They might also make unusual or jerky motions and move restlessly. And they might seem agitated or upset.
It’s a myth, though, that schizophrenia automatically makes someone violent or dangerous.
Explore schizophrenia symptoms in more detail.
Listen and validate
When your loved one describes their hallucinations or delusions, you might feel uncertain about how to respond.
It’s normal to not know what to say, but you can still validate their confusion, frustration, and fear — even when you don’t fully understand their experience.
Instead of dismissing these symptoms as lies or stories, remember the things they see, hear, and believe are completely real to them.
Consider how you’d feel, and how you’d want others to support you, if you firmly believed something that everyone else denied.
What to say
To avoid dismissing their experience, try something like:
- “Seeing a strange figure in your house must be so frightening. Is there anything I can do to help you feel safer?”
- “I understand not wanting to go out when you feel someone watching you. Would you have an easier time running errands if I kept you company?”
They might seem disinterested in talking and offer “flat” responses, but difficulty expressing emotion is a common schizophrenia symptom.
You might also notice their speech patterns seem unusual or unfamiliar, and you might not always understand what they’re trying to say.
All the same, give them time to express themselves in their own way. Let them talk without trying to finish their sentences or fill in blank spaces. It may take more time to have a conversation, but making the effort can help them feel supported and connected.
Ask how you can help
You might want to do whatever you can to make things easier for your loved one. Maybe you have plenty of suggestions or advice for changes they can make to improve their well-being.
They’re still their own person, though, and they might not need or want you to take complete charge.
Instead, ask, “What can I do to help you out?”
Or try making suggestions that still leave them in control:
- “I noticed you don’t have many clean clothes left in the closet. Would it help if I threw in a load of laundry for you?”
- “Do you need groceries? I can take you to the store today.”
- “I was thinking we could make dinner together, but why don’t we do the dishes first?”
If they say they don’t need help, it’s best to respect that — as long as their safety isn’t at risk.
You might think getting some fresh air or tidying up would do wonders for their health. When you insist they do something they don’t want to do, though, they might feel frustrated and pull back instead.
Self-isolation and social withdrawal are often early signs of schizophrenia. Your loved one might lose interest in things they used to enjoy: work or school, hobbies, and spending time with you and other loved ones.
Keeping in contact provides your loved with important social and emotional support. Staying connected also gives you the opportunity to encourage them if they seem reluctant to get support or continue treatment.
How to check in
- Make a habit of checking in regularly, even just to ask if they need anything. They may always turn down offers of help, but that doesn’t mean you have to stop asking.
- Send a text or give them a quick call to say, “I was thinking about you. How are you doing today?”
- Suggest activities to do together, like watching a movie, taking a walk, or playing a game.
- Offer encouragement when they reach out first. “I’m so glad to hear from you. Thanks for calling!”
Help them make a crisis plan
Once they appear, schizophrenia symptoms can come and go throughout life. Creating a plan for what to do when this happens can make it easier to manage symptoms if they return or get worse.
This plan might include things like:
- key signs of a schizophrenia episode
- numbers for their psychiatrist, therapist, and other professionals
- strategies for coping with distress, including stretches, physical movement, or deep breathing
- phone numbers for emergency contacts
- their preferred first steps to getting help, such as checking in with their therapist or heading to the emergency room
- a list of current medications, allergies, and other important health information
- who should take care of their children or pets and look after their house
If you feel comfortable doing so, put your own number on the list and let them know they can call you in a crisis.
Also include numbers for crisis helplines that can provide immediate help and support, like:
- Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by calling 1-800-273-8255
- The International Association for Suicide Prevention website for crisis helplines and other resources outside the United States
Encourage them to continue with their treatment plan
People with schizophrenia typically need long-term treatment and support from mental health professionals.
Medication for schizophrenia can improve symptoms and sometimes help keep them from coming back.
Therapy, on the other hand, can help people living with schizophrenia learn to recognize signs of an episode and explore strategies to manage symptoms and the distress they cause.
You can ask about treatment and offer support in positive, supportive ways without making them feel criticized or helpless.
- “How is therapy going? Has your therapist been helpful?”
- “I remember you mentioned having a hard time remembering to take your medication. Would it help to set a reminder on your phone?”
- “Can I give you a ride to therapy or take you to pick up your prescription this week?”
- “Are you still going to therapy?”
- “Did you take your medication today?”
- “You know you can’t stop treatment even if you feel better, right?”
Family therapy can also provide the opportunity for family members to get more information about treatment plans and productive ways to offer support.
Offer support with small goals
Schizophrenia doesn’t just make it difficult to concentrate and stay focused at work or school. It can also affect motivation and ability to handle daily tasks, including:
- interaction with loved ones
Pushing them to make changes they aren’t ready for, like returning to full-time work, generally won’t help.
Instead, encourage them to work toward small goals, especially things you can do together. You might try:
- helping them stay physically active by hiking together on weekends
- encouraging them to eat regular meals by preparing dinner together
- brainstorming a nighttime routine that helps them get to sleep easier
- helping them list off relaxing hobbies to try, like yoga, watercolor painting, or gardening
- encouraging healthy coping skills, like
listening to musicor practicing mindfulness meditation
Many people have trouble accessing community support with finding work or living arrangements. With their permission, you can also offer support by acting as their advocate and making phone calls on their behalf.
If you’re not able to offer that support, you could offer to contact someone else they trust instead.
Things to avoid
There are plenty of ways to show support for someone with schizophrenia, but there are a few things you’ll want to avoid doing.
Challenging or denying hallucinations and delusions
Many people think it’s best to gently counter hallucinations or delusions by saying something like, “That’s not real, or I would see it, too.”
Yet these symptoms are very real to them, and denying their reality often just ends up driving them away.
They may decide they can’t trust or confide in you since you don’t believe them. A lack of trust can make it more difficult to support them and encourage them to get help for symptoms.
Offering support doesn’t mean pretending to believe in the hallucinations or delusions. You can simply say:
- “It must feel so upsetting to hear those voices.”
- “That sounds so confusing and stressful.”
Doing everything for them
When your loved one is unable to do chores, errands, or daily tasks, you might try to help by taking over those responsibilities.
But it’s often more helpful to encourage them to take steps toward doing these things themselves and offering support when needed.
You can also ask if there’s anything specific getting in the way of tasks:
- If they haven’t done laundry because they ran out of laundry soap and feel afraid of leaving the house, you could offer to do a grocery run.
- If they can’t prepare meals because a voice threatens them whenever they pick up a knife, you might help them chop a few days’ worth of vegetables in advance.
You can also offer to help them plan and schedule out weekly responsibilities when you spend time together.
Blaming or judging
Your loved one can’t help having schizophrenia, and they can’t control the symptoms they experience. Even with medication and therapy, hallucinations, delusions, and other symptoms may never go away completely.
Offering compassion and respect is the best way to support them and maintain your connection, even when their behavior confuses or frustrates you.
If you feel overwhelmed or burned out, it’s always OK to help them reach out to another support person or professional.
When to intervene
If your loved one talks about suicide or dying or has serious symptoms of psychosis, help them get immediate care.
Signs of a severe episode of psychosis might include:
- not recognizing their surroundings or loved ones
- not knowing who they are
- saying things that don’t make sense
- talking about hurting themselves or others
- engaging in behaviors that put them in danger, like trying to drive or go outside while disoriented
Check their crisis plan for emergency contact numbers and their preferred approach to treatment. Stay with them, if possible, or contact another support person to keep them company.
If you can’t find their crisis plan and they seem very distressed, it may be time to call 911 or the nearest psychiatric hospital. Explain that your loved one has schizophrenia and that you believe they’re having an episode of psychosis.
In the meantime:
- Give them space.
- Avoid touching them without asking first.
- Speak in a calm, quiet voice.
- Keep any directions simple, clear, and easy to follow.
- Narrate your actions, like, “I’m going to make a phone call now” and “Is it all right if I come sit next to you?”
The bottom line
Schizophrenia is a mental health condition that may never fully go away.
Professional treatment and support can go a long way toward helping your loved one get relief from symptoms and build coping skills.
Don’t forget, though, that your compassionate support can also make a big difference by motivating them to seek help for symptoms and keep up with their treatment plan.
Crystal Raypole has previously worked as a writer and editor for GoodTherapy. Her fields of interest include Asian languages and literature, Japanese translation, cooking, natural sciences, sex positivity, and mental health. In particular, she’s committed to helping decrease stigma around mental health issues.