Using Kindness and Compassion to Support a Partner Who Lives with Schizophrenia

Being in a relationship with someone who lives with schizophrenia can leave you feeling overwhelmed and helpless as to how to best support them. Nevertheless, there are things that you can do to help them in their journey: empathize with what they’re experiencingbe mindful of substance use, and understand that it’s a long-term illness.

Only one percent of people in the United States live with schizophrenia. It’s not a huge number, and this fairly low prevalence rate makes it an illness that is often misunderstood. A great deal of stigma surrounds it, and that creates a cycle of misconception and fear that causes many to look at those who suffer from it not as people that need help and support, but as people to fear and ostracize.

The reality of schizophrenia, however, is very different from the cultural perceptions that tend to define it. It’s an illness that people live with every day—they’ve just learned to manage it so that they can lead functional lives. If you love someone with schizophrenia, you likely know how much they can struggle, and there are a number of things that you can do to help both yourself and your partner promote a healthy relationship that thrives despite the chaos that the disorder can create.

The voices are still awful when they are really loud. They discuss me, put me down, shout obscenities, comment on what is happening to me and tell me to do things that put me in danger. I often end up seeing the world in a very different and frightening way, and at the time I’m having these delusions, I really believe them.

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Meet Your Partner Where They Are—Wherever That Is

Experiencing and interpreting the world in a completely different way from everyone around you is a scary and alienating experience. When your partner cycles through delusions, it might feel like you’re dating a stranger. But it’s important to remember that they are still the person you love, and treating them differently when they’re struggling most will do nothing but worsen that struggle. Hear them out, listen to what they have to say, respond compassionately—be present with them in whatever ways you can. “What I try to cultivate is an attitude of loving tolerance, while encouraging anything positive he wants to do,” explains the parent of a son with schizophrenia. “I also try to actively listen whenever he wants to talk to me.”

Be Mindful of the Potential for Substance Abuse, and Respond Thoughtfully

In order to cope with schizophrenia, many suffering from it self-medicate with drugs and alcohol. Though the number of people who live with schizophrenia and also struggle with alcohol or drug use varies by study (from 10-70%), the connection is clear. If you think your partner may be falling into a pattern of using drugs or alcohol to manage their schizophrenia, it’s crucial that you respond compassionately and nonjudgmentally. Ultimately, they’re using because they haven’t yet found another way to cope with the symptoms of their disorder, and that’s more than understandable. Reassure them that you’re there to support them, and that you want to help make sure they have as many supports in place as possible. That might be friends or family—or even a residential treatment program that can help them learn how they can manage their disorder without relying on drugs or alcohol.

Understand That It’s a Long-Term Illness

Living with schizophrenia can be anything but easy, but it’s possible to lead a functional life with the right kinds of supports in place—and a compassionate partner can be one of those supports. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), holistic therapies, and talk therapy can add to that network and ensure that even during the toughest moments, your partner always feels like they have something or someone to fall back on. Building a support network takes work, but it can be done, especially when in a compassionate, supportive residential treatment environment in the presence of staff that understand the importance of these networks.

Through all of it, it’s important to remember that phases of delusion and psychosis will pass, and that they don’t define your partner. They are not their illness. Learning to live with schizophrenia is a process, one that takes time, effort, and patience on their part—and on yours. But here’s the silver lining: through those most difficult moments, you’ll gain a greater understanding of how you can better support them (and yourself) moving forward.

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Cultivating Acceptance and Empathy

It can be overwhelming to be a foundation for a partner learning to live with schizophrenia, and that’s why it’s crucial to remember that often, the best and brightest support you can offer is your empathy. This cannot be overstated. Writes Mike Hedrick:

The belief is that no one can truly understand what it’s like to have a mental illness unless they’ve either experienced it or been around it for a long part of their lives. I don’t think that should be a limitation. After all, everyone has anxieties, everyone has insecurities, everyone has a little paranoia from time to time so, to a degree, everyone can kind of relate.

It seems like a simple concept, but knowing that there’s someone who truly gets it can make a world of difference in the life of someone struggling with schizophrenia. As their partner, you’re perfectly positioned to be that person, but if it seems they need more support than you’re able to give them, residential treatmentmay be their best option. When symptoms first begin to surface, the amount of time that it takes to get treatment can greatly affect the course of the disease. If you notice symptoms beginning to manifest in your partner, make sure you support them in whatever way makes the most sense to them, whether that’s just being by their side during the times that they need you, or helping them find the right residential treatment program.

Bridges to Recovery offers comprehensive residential treatment to people learning to live with schizophrenia and other mental health challenges. Reach out to us to learn more about how you can help your loved one get the right support in managing their mental health concerns so that they can lead a functional life.

Lead Image Source: Unsplash User Arnel Hasanovic