Caring for Someone Living with Schizoaffective Disorder

If you have a family member that suffers from schizoaffective disorder, the process of diagnosis and treatment can be painstaking. Through careful monitoring of their medication, the encouragement of a healthy diet, and a strong relationship with their therapist, you can provide them with the support they need to recover from and cope with their illness.

Each day lived alongside a family member with schizoaffective disorder is marked by a whirlwind of emotions—a fear of not knowing what to expect, a sadness for the pain your loved one is clearly going through, and the helplessness of feeling you can do nothing but watch them fall further and further into their fractured reality of mood swings and unpredictability.

Although watching your loved one experience these symptoms is a terrifying experience, it’s important to be as compassionate and understanding with them as you can to help them open up about their illness, and to be able to take the necessary steps to get the treatment they need. Doing so will help you support them in the best way possible, before, during, and after this difficult process.

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Dealing with Schizoaffective Disorder in a Family Environment

Schizoaffective disorder is a serious mental health disorder and, without proper coping strategies, it can easily cause the seams of your family to unravel. One of the most difficult parts about caring for someone with this disorder is how misunderstood it can be, making the period of time prior to diagnosis a scary and confusing experience.

Michael Crawford, who suffers from schizoaffective disorder, explains his own difficult experience diagnosing his illness:

Although schizophrenia is a very familiar illness to any psychiatrist, my psychiatrist seemed to find it very disturbing that I was hearing voices. If I had not been hallucinating he would have been very comfortable diagnosing and treating me as bipolar. While they seemed certain of my eventual diagnosis, the impression I got from my stay at the hospital was that none of the staff had ever seen anyone with schizoaffective disorder before.

Immediately after diagnosis, it’s important to provide your loved one as much support as you can to ensure they’re prepared to enter residential treatment with a positive outlook, ready to face their illness head on. Although a diagnosis can be stressful, the process of preparing for treatment is extremely important. It paves the way for the healing process—and plays an enormous role in how well your family member will respond to it.

Schizoaffective disorder is treatable, although each person’s response to treatment will be unique. Giving a loved one unconditional support will help ensure their progression through the process is as positive as possible, and make it much easier to handle for everyone in your family.

Following treatment, the struggle doesn’t end—you must prepare yourself to help your loved one when they return home and ensure that anytime they begin to feel overwhelmed, they have their family close by as a network of support. There are numerous ways you can care for them to ensure they continue to stay in control of their illness, while maintaining a healthy outlook on life.

Carefully Monitor Medication

The multifaceted nature of schizoaffective disorder means there are no specific medications for it. Instead, treatment plans integrate both schizophrenia and mood disorder medications in order to curb symptoms. While antipsychotics such as Seroquel are typically used to treat schizophrenia and mood disorders like bipolarism, treatment plans also take advantage of antidepressants like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).

During the treatment of schizoaffective disorder, ensuring that each prescribed medication is taken regularly—and at the required dosage—is extremely important. While in residential care, patients are carefully observed over a long period of time, with medications adjusted and monitored until the right dosage is found. However, the body’s response to medication can change, making it extremely important for you as a family member to closely monitor and report any shifts that you see in your loved one’s response to it.

For example, antidepressants can cause manic episodes in some individuals, so monitoring reactions to each medication—and ensuring that your loved one’s doctor is informed of these reactions—is essential to their health and stability. And, while taking antipsychotics can ease hallucinations and psychotic symptoms, forgetting to take antidepressants as often as prescribed can send your loved one into a deep depression. Once in this state, they can lose the motivation to take any medication, including antipsychotics, causing numerous adverse effects like parkinsonian symptoms and dystonias.

Encourage a Stable Diet

Research has shown that certain foods like alcohol, caffeine, and those high in fat can play a role in triggering mood swings for individuals suffering from bipolar disorder, which is characterized by the same ones between depression and mania as schizoaffective disorder. A steady, balanced diet consisting of meals that promote stable blood sugar levels is essential to help minimize mood swings and promote a mind that’s strong and healthy, prepared for situations when psychotic symptoms arise.

Residential treatment will provide your loved one with healthy, balanced meals and maintaining this balance at home is crucial to keep their illness under control. Always make sure they understand and recognize the importance and benefits of sticking to a diet that promotes a healthy, strong mind.

Maintain a Relationship with Their Therapist

Talk therapy has been shown to be effective at curbing schizophrenic symptoms and reducing the need to rely on heavy doses of antipsychotic drugs—nearly all treatment programs for schizoaffective disorder will utilize talk therapy. Individual sessions will be confidential, but maintaining a connection with your family member’s therapist can help you remain firmly rooted in the treatment process and get advice on properly caring for them.

Therapists will provide the tools and analyses your loved one needs to understand and live with schizoaffective disorder. Once treatment is finished, continuing care plans offer therapy sessions to ensure your family member can either maintain their relationship with their therapist from residential treatment, or another one familiar with their disorder, to provide support and advice to get them through any rough patches that their illness creates. Getting your own therapist to help you through this process is highly recommended, and will help maintain healthy bonds between everyone in the family.

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Providing Support for Recovery

The combination of fluctuating moods and psychotic symptoms can make life extremely tumultuous for individuals living with schizoaffective disorder. Even with the proper medication and therapy, symptoms can continue to surface with varying degrees of intensity. Without a proper support network, it can be easy to fall victim to their grasp. To make things even more complicated, these cycles can take their toll on you as a family member as well—over time, you might feel yourself becoming emotionally drained by the challenges of providing support to your loved one through these difficult times.

But, through proper residential treatment, individuals with schizoaffective disorder will have access to the tools and environment needed to come to grips with their illness and regain control of their life. And, as a family member, you can make life after treatment easier for them to deal with, and increase the benefits they receive from the treatment process. With the help and support of both trained professionals and close loved ones that will be in their life forever, your loved one can live with schizoaffective disorder without it having a negative impact on their life and those closest to them.

Bridges to Recovery offers comprehensive residential treatment for individuals suffering from schizoaffective disorder, as well as other co-occurring mental health disorders, substance abuse, or process addictions. Contact us to learn how your loved ones can receive a comprehensive diagnosis and treatment plan that engages you and your family to ensure that you stay connected throughout the entire process.

Lead Image Source: Unsplash user Elias Ehmann