Schizophrenia and Relationships

Sister Lucinda Claghorn was 17 when she had her first psychotic episode. “My family abandoned me and put me in a local mental health clinic,” recalls Claghorn, a nun of the Secular Franciscan Order of Mobile, AL. She was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and admitted to AltaPointe Health, a mental hospital. “The staff at AltaPointe knew my situation and accepted me. They were part of my family.

With their help, Claghorn, now 67, has come a long way. She obtained degrees in criminal justice administration and psychology. And in 1989, she took a vow to become a Catholic nun – something she had wanted to do since she was 7. Some AltaPointe staff attended the ceremony.

One of the hardest things about schizophrenia is the difficulty in forming close relationships with family, friends, and romantic partners. But studies show that strong social bonds that provide emotional and medical support can boost recovery. They can also help manage symptoms in the long term and possibly prevent further psychotic episodes.

Coping with stigma and isolation

Schizophrenia is a serious mental disorder that occurs when there is a chemical imbalance in your brain. It can prevent you from expressing and transmitting your emotions and thoughts effectively. Symptoms can also include hallucinations, delusions, and disorganized speech.

The stigma or negative labels sometimes attached to people with schizophrenia, such as “lazy” or “unmotivated”, can act as a barrier, says Krista Baker, clinical director of outpatient schizophrenia programs at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center.

Claghorn knows what it is. “My family never loved me. They never accepted my schizophrenia. For them, I was just acting or trying to get attention, ”she says.

Isolation can also be a problem. Baker says schizophrenia can make you “talk less and desire less social contact.” This can add to the struggle to form connections.

The first step in breaking down barriers, says Baker: “It’s important not to blame the person for their illness.”

Instead, families or support systems can help people with schizophrenia remain stable by helping them develop their social skills and get the treatment they need.

The benefits of supportive relationships

If you have schizophrenia, it can seem difficult to hone your social skills and build lasting relationships. But with effort and proper treatment, it can be done.

One way to develop these skills is to join a support group where you can meet people who understand and help you with what you are going through.

Nora Baylerian, 56, group leader for Schizophrenics Anonymous (SA) in Royal Oak, MI, says treating schizophrenia is no different than how you would treat any disease. “It’s a disease. Just as diabetics need their insulin, so we need our psychiatric treatment. But she says the SA group meetings went beyond that, helping her build good relationships and boost her self-esteem.

Sometimes getting outside can really pay off. When John Dunn, 54, returned to college after a few psychotic episodes, he decided to go to a psychological rehabilitation center to make friends and get support through this difficult process. Dunn says he had avoided romantic relationships until then. But there he met the woman who was to become his wife.


“She invited me out on my first date. That’s why I finally married her: because she was one of the first girls to take an interest in me, ”says Dunn, an aspiring Michigan writer who was diagnosed with schizo disorder. -affective at 26 years old.

“I have found a deep love with her over the years. It wasn’t really a romantic situation. We just have to be real good friends. … She supported me when I was sick, and I supported her when she was sick. They have now been together for over 11 years.

Support doesn’t always have to come from family, friends or romantic partners. Claghorn attributes her ability to live on her own and manage her symptoms to her psychiatric service dog, a chihuahua called Millie.

“She lets me know when I’m hallucinating. If she barks when I hear people talking, then I know it’s real. If she doesn’t bark and I hear people talking, then I know she’s hallucinating. Then I need to talk to my treatment team, ”Claghorn says.


Before getting a service dog, Claghorn needed psychiatric treatment every 6 months or so. But in the 13 years she’s had Millie, she’s only had one episode.

As well as offering a reality check, Claghorn says, Millie “cut her way into her heart” and gave her a “sense of purpose.”

If your loved one suffers from schizophrenia

It can be difficult to form a strong bond with someone with schizophrenia. But there are steps you can take:

Learn. The best way to build your relationship is to learn about the person’s illness first, says Sandy Dimiterchik, director of community engagement at the Schizophrenia and Related Disorders Alliance of America, which itself has schizophrenia. Learning about the condition can help you understand what it means for a person to live with it and the types of symptoms they may have.

Listen. It can help people with schizophrenia share their problems and frustrations, which can lead them to the right kind of treatment. “Listen to them when they have symptoms. Be compassionate and help them in any way you can, ”Baylerian says.


Provide support. Dunn says relationship building can be as simple as “showing compassion, empathy, and acting on it.”

Make yourself available in any way you can. Emotional support and encouragement can help people open up to treatment options and move on with their condition.

“Support where they are at and ask questions they can answer,” Dimiterchik says. “I have a close relationship with my sister and my brother because we do things as a family. They are always available to talk and (are) proud of me for the steps I have taken to improve my life.

To hire. Taking action early on can be very helpful, says Baker. “Usually, at the onset of symptoms, (people with schizophrenia) develop patterns. What’s far too unfortunate is that when you’re setting models it’s hard to break up later, ”she says. “If we intervene early, we’ll keep them in touch with friends; we will keep them in touch with their families. That way, they don’t go isolated in their bedroom, just take their medication and watch TV. “


She encourages families to “start a conversation” about anything they want to talk about. It can help develop social skills.

Dimiterchik says that a little effort can go a long way: “Try to get your loved ones to do things with you, even if you are watching a movie on TV.”


Practice self-care. Caring for someone with mental health problems can take a toll on you. Baker says it’s also important to find the time to take care of yourself. Consider joining support groups that focus on families and caregivers of people with schizophrenia.

Ultimately, to form a lasting and meaningful bond with someone with schizophrenia, Baker says, look beyond the illness.

“It’s important for people to remember that people with schizophrenia are people like the rest of us, with struggles like the rest of us. They shouldn’t be treated any differently.

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Jothi Venkat

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