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When caring for someone with paranoid schizophrenia, it’s important to avoid certain words or phrases so that you don’t agitate them, hurt their feelings, or seem insensitive.
It’s also important to remember that dealing with schizophrenia is extremely difficult, and this person may rely on you for love and support. Schizophrenia is a severe mental disorder that affects every aspect of a person’s life. From relationships to work performance, a person with this disorder may go to great lengths just to maintain their symptoms. If you have a spouse, friend, or family member with this disorder, the way you communicate with them is important. As a Banyan mental health center that treats this condition, we’re sharing examples of what not to say to someone with schizophrenia.
How to Communicate With Someone With Schizophrenia: Dos and Don’ts
Schizophrenia is a long-term mental disorder that affects a person’s ability to think, feel, and behave clearly. A person with schizophrenia may struggle to break down the relationships between thoughts, emotions, and behavior, resulting in impaired perception, inappropriate behavior or feelings, withdrawal from reality, and a sense of mental fragmentation. If you think this sounds complicated, imagine how a person with this disorder feels.
People with schizophrenia rarely have an understanding of or insight into their illness, which can be extremely stressful for the individual and their loved ones. As an outsider, to you it may seem like the person has completely lost touch with reality, but this isn’t true. As complex as this disorder is, it’s important to be mindful of your language when speaking to the individual or talking about their disorder. So what should you not say to someone with schizophrenia? Below are some examples and tips for communication you should keep in mind.
Don’t Say Things Like: “Why Are You Acting Crazy?”
Crazy, cuckoo, nuts, and basketcase are a few of the many hurtful and flat-out rude names you should avoid saying to someone with schizophrenia. Unfortunately, movies and TV shows have contributed significantly to the many misconceptions about schizophrenic behavior and symptoms. In an attempt to entertain, the media often makes people with schizophrenia seem crazy, violent, or aggressive. In reality, they’re just struggling with their mental health. Avoid using hurtful or derogatory language when talking to someone with schizophrenia to avoid hurting their feelings or making them feel ashamed about their condition.
Do Listen More Than You Speak
When helping someone with schizophrenia, never assume you know what they need. Don’t make decisions or big changes without discussing these changes with them, which can be extremely infuriating. Just because they have schizophrenia does not mean they can’t live out their life or make decisions for themselves. Often, this kind of behavior stems from codependency. As a caretaker, it can be easy to become accustomed to helping the person and having them rely on you. But this isn’t healthy, and sustaining this kind of behavior can do more harm than good. Be mindful of your intentions and work with the individual instead of trying to take over things for them.
Don’t Discuss Their Conditions With Others
While this tip may not involve communicating with the person, it’s still important. When dealing with a family member with schizophrenia, it can be tempting to spill the beans or release your concerns or frustrations with others. However, this can quickly go south. A person’s mental illness is a sensitive topic, and discussing their condition with others without their permission or knowledge can perpetuate harmful rumors and misconceptions.
Many people don’t understand schizophrenia, so when they hear of the person’s condition, they may treat them differently or say certain things that can be insensitive or hurtful. Unless they give your permission, ask you to, or if they bring up the conversation themselves, don’t discuss your loved one’s condition with other people.
Do Use a Gentle Voice
Using an aggressive tone can make the person feel as if they’re backed in a corner. Again, schizophrenia is a difficult disease to cope with. You never know how the person is truly feeling, even if you’ve asked. It’s important to remind yourself that they may do or say certain things without realizing the harm or pain they may cause. While it may be easy to become frustrated or angry with them, you should never yell, say harsh things, or speak in a strong voice to them. Instead, speak gently. Be honest, but don’t be harsh or aggressive. This person is probably relying on your support, and it’s best to express your concerns in a gentle manner.
Don’t Attempt to Diagnose Them
Unless you’re their doctor, do not attempt to diagnose your loved one. This can not only seem insensitive, but it can also be dismissive of their feelings. If your friend, spouse, or family member is potentially showing signs of a mental illness, get them help. There are many dangers of misdiagnosed mental disorders that can be avoided if you encourage the person to seek out professional medical advice.
Do Use Simple Directions and Language
A person having a schizophrenic episode may be confused or struggle to understand elaborate directions. If you’re trying to talk to them and calm them down, it’s best to offer guidance using simple language. You can say things like, “Sit and let’s talk.” Help them by letting them speak, not interrupting, and just communicating slowly and clearly.
Don’t Discuss Their Fears During an Episode
If your loved one is afraid of spiders, don’t talk about spiders while they’re having an episode. This will only make them more afraid and cause them to panic more than they already are.
Do Explain Your Actions
Again, during an episode, a person with schizophrenia may struggle to understand things like movements. They may feel extremely afraid and paranoid at that moment, so it’s important to explain your actions with words. If you’re pulling out a chair to sit down, tell them that. If you’re pulling out your phone to check something, tell them that. Remember that details matter.
Don’t Try to Convince Them That Their Delusions Aren’t Real
One of the major things you should never do to a schizophrenic is to try to convince them that their delusions aren’t real. Delusions are a common symptom of schizophrenia, and it can be tempting to try and convince the person that what they’re seeing isn’t real. However, these aren’t thoughts that you can talk someone out of, and attempting to do so may only cause further panic or frustration.
Although there are many examples of what not to say to someone with schizophrenia, everyone is different. Another great way of supporting your loved ones is to encourage them to get schizophrenia treatment.