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My family and Schizophrenia

What is Schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia is a serious mental health disorder in which people interpret reality abnormally. The condition affects approximately 24 million people, or 1 in 300 people, worldwide [1] and presents itself through symptoms including hallucinations, delusions, and extremely disordered thinking and behavior that impairs daily functioning.

There is intense stigma surrounding this condition putting sufferers at risk of discrimination both in a community setting and a medical setting. This widespread stigma can result in social isolation and therefore can limit access to much needed health care/treatment as well as housing, education, and employment. [1]

This blog shares a few of my own thoughts on what I believe remains one of the most misunderstood and stigmatized illnesses today. I attempt to offer some insight into the reality of caring for a loved one with schizophrenia. And the approach to consider when trying to support a loved one.

Caring for loved ones

No-one – not even the most energetic among us – has an unlimited store of emotional resources when someone you love needs medical help. When someone we love is struggling with their mental health, oftentimes our instinct is to throw ourselves into the fray without considering the wider repercussions. Without thinking we suddenly find ourselves at risk of burnout and our loved one at risk of further decline. I know firsthand that when a close friend or family member hits rock-bottom, it’s hard not to get swept up in all the intensity. We forget ourselves sometimes. We go all-in, just to find ourselves depleted, sometimes resentful and forgetful of that person’s brilliant qualities.

My brother and my mother

As the daughter and the sister of two sufferers I have been party to many of the big crisis moments in my family. In retrospect, I believe that my approach over the years, alongside that of our family and health workers, was totally inappropriate. It failed to enable my mum and my brother to live well with schizophrenia.

My eldest brother was the first member of our family to achieve a first-class honors degree. His field was furniture design. I remember the day when he was put forward as a designer for a Royal Family. I also remember the day when the promise of this wonderful career fell apart as a result of his experiences of voices. The voices became his downfall. After a stable period of living well, the voices returned, and my brother ended up being sectioned.

The turning point for me

I recall wandering aimlessly into bookshop where I found the book, ‘I am not sick I don’t need help’ by Dr Xavier Amador. It may not suit everyone, but this book became my bible in learning how to understand my brother and my mum. It helped ensure that I treated them with respect and love, even in the ‘crazy’ moments. This book, for both me and my whole family became the book that changed our lives. Through reading this book I learnt that my approach towards the situation and my brother was completely wrong. It taught me that there were holes in my approach. And it was causing him to see me as a foe instead of a friend. My approach was never going to allow me to gain the trust of my brother as, at the time, I was adhering and listening so intently to the medical model of care. This way of thinking disabled me to see any alternative path. This book taught me that, in reality, it was ME who had to change. It was ME who had to realise that for him, his experience was his reality and was very real for him. I realised that understanding and respecting this fact was the thing that would gain back his trust and ergo get him to stick to a treatment plan.

Learning how to actively listen

So, the real work began. Me and my family began educating ourselves and learning how to listen actively. We are still very much on a journey. My brother no doubt has ups and downs. But now I do not overreact, I do not call the crisis team straightway. Instead, I let him talk when he wants to. I listen, and then me and my family try to create a safe plan. Looking back, growing up around family members with Schizophrenia was often dysfunctional. Yet it was a family filled with LOVE and LOVE for one another. And that is what you must remember when the bad times come around.

If you are reading this you might need some support. As a carer, as a parent, as a sibling or as a friend, try the book. And why not reach out to services to support you? It will help you support your loved one.

Our Guest Blogger:

Huge thanks to our guest blogger. Dorset Mind CEO Linda O’Sullivan, candidly writes about her experience of caring for loved ones with Schizophrenia.

Further Support:

If you are struggling to cope with your mental health in general, please talk to your GP. If you’re in a crisis, treat it as an emergency. Call 999 immediately or the Samaritans, FREE on 116 123. Alternatively, call Dorset’s 24hr Helpline called Connection on 0800 652 0190.

Dorset Mind offers group support that can also help with your wellbeing. The group offers peer support and helps to reduce stigma by normalizing conversations about mental health. You can also check out further support for stress and mental health here. 

 

 

 

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