By Dr Gwen Tonyane
People living with schizophrenia deserve to live a happy, fulfilled life. To do so, they often need assistance from caregivers. While this may seem daunting at first, if carried out with the highest levels of love, affection and care, being a caregiver can be rewarding.
Schizophrenia symptoms are tough to handle if a caregiver isn’t familiar with the disorder. Schizophrenia affects one in every 100 people in South Africa, and the symptoms include:
- Hallucinations: People living with schizophrenia may experience hallucinations of a visual, auditory and tactile nature. When they experience these hallucinations, it’s important to accept that this is their reality and not be dismissive.
- Delusional behaviour: A person living with schizophrenia may experience delusions that seem strange to most people, but in actual fact is part of their thought process. The nature of these delusions may include:
- Persecutory delusions: The feeling that they are being stalked or that someone is after them.
- Referential delusions: A person will believe that songs, TV shows or gestures from public figures are messages aimed at them.
- Somatic delusions: The feeling that a person has a bizarre illness such as worms under their skin or damage from cosmic rays.
- Erotomanic delusions: People living with schizophrenia will often be convinced a celebrity is in love with them or feel that people they don’t know are attracted to them.
- Religious delusions: A person living with schizophrenia will often think that they are aligned to a deity or that they’re possessed by demons.
- Delusions of grandeur: The feeling that they are a global figure on the world stage; this could include the thought that they are an entertainer or politician.
- Confusion and disorganised speech: People living with schizophrenia often have trouble organising their thoughts and may zone out with a blank stare on their face. When they eventually talk, their speech patterns are unclear and rarely make sense as the words often come out jumbled.
- Trouble concentrating: A person living with schizophrenia will have trouble concentrating and lose track of activities that are usually easy to keep up with. This prevents them from focusing and absorbing information.
- Movement disorders: Some people with schizophrenia experience catatonic behaviour, meaning they are jumpy and repeat the same movements over and over again. Other times, they sit completely still for hours.
While these symptoms are common, it’s important to note that not all people living with schizophrenia will experience the same symptoms and just as crucial, not all people living with schizophrenia are violent.
To help you assist someone living with schizophrenia, here are a few tips from medical professionals:
- Learn about schizophrenia: This can include learning about the symptoms, treatment options and their prognosis to be better informed about caring for a person living with the disorder.
- Basic daily needs: Depending on the severity of their symptoms, a person living with schizophrenia may need assistance with simple tasks. This may include scheduling appointments, transportation to these appointments, creating routines and setting up a peaceful environment that prevents stress to a person with schizophrenia.
- Treatment needs: People living with schizophrenia will need to have a treatment plan that manages their symptoms and allows medical professionals to track their progress. Treatment options may include:
- Therapy: Appointments with medical professionals are of utmost importance as these medical professionals will prescribe a treatment that assists in managing the symptoms of schizophrenia.
- Daily medicinal treatments: Some therapists may recommend a daily dose of medication. As a caregiver you may find yourself in a position where you need to encourage the person living with schizophrenia to take their medication daily and stick to a routine.
- Monthly injections: Therapists will sometimes recommend long-term injections, minimising the need to constantly remind a person living with schizophrenia to take their medication. The injection manages symptoms for up to a month and is administered by a healthcare professional, who can then also track a person’s progress.
While these tips from medical professionals are a good starting point for caregivers, there are additional resources.
- The schizophrenia24x7.co.za website is a useful resource on breakthrough treatment options, tips on managing schizophrenia and advice on how to best assist a person living with schizophrenia.
- The Our Mental Health Facebook page is a community of like-minded people, coming together to help people living with schizophrenia and other mental health challenges. This community also shares useful information on treatment options and support programmes.