coping as a family

When your family member was first diagnosed with schizophrenia, you may have experienced a sense of grief over the loss of the person you once knew. Grief is a process. It usually starts with a sense of shock, and includes denial, anger, and sadness. The final phase is acceptance.

In order to accept schizophrenia, it may help to:
  • Acknowledge the illness and recognize the impact it will have on your family. Living with any chronic illness will change day to day life.
  • Learn more about schizophrenia. Understanding the illness will help you better respond to your family member.
  • Talk to family and friends. Let them take on some of the responsibility for caregiving.
  • Talk to people you trust - a good friend, clergy, psychologist or a family member.
  • Keep balance in your life. There's more to you and your ill relative than schizophrenia.
Between 40 and 50% of people with schizophrenia live with their families. The emotional stress of caring for someone with schizophrenia can be overwhelming. It is common to feel a wide range of emotions, such as fear, shame, anger, helplessness, resentment, sadness, depression, and guilt.

If you are a primary caregiver, it’s important to take care of yourself. Your health and happiness are
important. If you neglect your own needs, you risk burning out. 
  • Keep family life as normal as possible. Maintain routines.
  • Take care of your own needs—emotional, physical, and social.
  • Talk to family and friends. Let them take on some of the responsibility for caregiving.
  • Get involved in a family support group.
  • Be aware of what frustrates you, and find ways to cope. It helps to address just one stressful thing at a time.
  • Make time for things you enjoy: hobbies, physical activity, social events.
  • You may need to contact a professional, such as a social worker or psychiatrist, in order to better cope with the impact of the illness.
  • Be prepared for emergency situations.
  • Try not to let the illness take over your life. It’s okay to worry and grieve, but remember there’s nothing you could have done to prevent it.
  • Set realistic expectations for yourself.
  • Consider getting involved in efforts to advocate for your family member and others with schizophrenia. This can help your healing.

How can I help my other children?

Parents of children with schizophrenia understandably spend a great deal of time and energy focused on their son or daughter with the illness. But schizophrenia can also have an impact on other children in the family.

Siblings of people with schizophrenia may:
  • Feel like they have lost their best friend.
  • Be afraid they will also develop the illness.
  • Worry about their parents.
  • Feel pressure to make up for what their parents have lost in their sibling.
  • Be embarrassed or uncomfortable about the illness.
  • Distance themselves from the family, or stop bringing friends home.
  • Resent the time that parents spend on their sibling.
  • Feel guilty that they have a better life than their brother or sister.

What specific things can I do to help? 

The symptoms of schizophrenia, particularly bizarre behaviour, can strain relationships. People with the illness may seem withdrawn or hostile. Family members should not take these behaviours personally, but recognize that they are symptoms of an illness.

To support your other children, you may find it helpful to:
  • Share your own feelings, and encourage your children to talk.
  • Help them learn about schizophrenia, including what it means for brothers and sisters.
  • Spend time alone together doing enjoyable things.
  • Talk about their embarrassment and discomfort—what stigma means and how to deal with it.
  • Help them create a new relationship with their brother or sister.
If you are a primary caregiver, it’s important to talk to your children about their role in caring for their sibling when you can’t do it anymore.