There are several things that family members and friends can do to help someone with schizophrenia, such as raising their own awareness, listening, guiding them toward treatment, and simply not being afraid to talk about it.

Schizophrenia is a serious, chronic mental health condition that impacts how someone thinks, behaves, and feels. People with schizophrenia may experience symptoms or act in ways that causes distress, both for the person experiencing it and those around them, especially friends and family.

This article discusses several ways in which people can help someone with schizophrenia. It also looks at some things to avoid doing and how to encourage someone to seek treatment even if they do not want to.

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Being a caretaker or support person for someone who has schizophrenia requires patience and understanding. Here are some tips that may be useful to consider when trying to support someone with schizophrenia:

1. Learn more about schizophrenia

Schizophrenia is a complex mental health condition that can cause a wide variety of symptoms and require complex care. Understanding more about the condition often makes it easier to help someone who has received a diagnosis of schizophrenia.

Learn even more about schizophrenia from other credible organizations, such as:

More educational resources are available here.

2. Encourage someone to get treatment

Someone with schizophrenia may be unaware they need professional help, not know how to get it, or be physically unable to get themselves to places that offer help.

To find a local facility that offers special care for people with mental health conditions such as schizophrenia, use the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA’s) Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator.

For people experiencing their first symptoms or episode of a mental health condition, the SAMHSA’s Early Serious Mental Illness Treatment Locator can also identify facilities or providers that may be able to help.

Here is the contact information for the SAMHSA’s National Mental Health Hotline, a completely free, confidential service that operates 24 hours per day year-round in English and Spanish:

  • Dial 800-662-HELP (4357).
  • Text 435748 (HELP4U).
  • FaceTime them at 800-487-4889.
  • Check out their website.

To contact the Schizophrenia & Psychosis Action Alliance’s hotline, which operates Monday–Friday from 9:00 a.m.–5:00 p.m. in all time zones, dial 800-493-2094 or email them.

3. Encourage someone to follow their treatment plan

People who receive proper treatment for schizophrenia can often live healthy, rewarding lives. Try to positively encourage people to be active in and committed to their treatment and recovery plan, and remind them of the benefits of doing so.

Provide support if someone is having trouble following their treatment plan, such as offering to:

  • Help get them to appointments.
  • Remind them when to take medications or help them take them.
  • Help get prescriptions filled or get tools for therapy, rehab programs, etc.
  • Do healthy or stress-relieving activities with them, such as exercising.
  • Help them buy healthy foods or make balanced meals.

Depending on your relationship, it can also be very helpful to ask someone to share the details of their treatment plan (or accompany them to appointments) to make it easier to identify ways to help them follow the plan or recognize when they are having a hard time following it.

4. Listen to them and validate their views or feelings

The hallucinations and delusions of schizophrenia can be terrifying, confusing, and isolating, and they can seem very real.

It can be helpful to ask someone with schizophrenia to explain what they are experiencing and how it is making them feel. Validating their feelings may help them feel less scared, confused, and anxious.

5. Ask how to help

The best way to help someone is to ask them what they need. In many cases, what is causing someone with schizophrenia distress or trouble may not be obvious. Actions that will be helpful will depend on the individual person and what exactly they are experiencing.

If someone does not want help, remember to be respectful of their wishes. Also, be sure not to try and do everything for someone, as it may reduce their feelings of autonomy and independence.

6. Know the early warning signs of schizophrenia

Learning about the early signs of schizophrenia can help people to identify when someone may be developing the condition before symptoms become severe.

Helping someone receive proper, early treatment during early psychosis can drastically improve the outlook. Most people develop gradual signs or symptoms of schizophrenia in mid-adolescence.

Early warning signs associated with schizophrenia include:

  • reduced self-care or hygiene
  • a sudden or severe drop in job performance or grades
  • problems thinking clearly or concentrating
  • new uneasiness with or suspicion of others
  • someone isolating themselves or spending a lot more time than normal alone
  • odd, bizarre, or strong, inappropriate emotions
  • appearing emotionally “flat” or “blank” and not showing feelings or emotions at all
  • reacting or responding to things that do not seem real

7. Stay connected

People with schizophrenia and other mental health conditions may isolate themselves, but research shows that having a strong social support system can positively impact mental health.

Make sure to stay in touch with loved ones or friends with schizophrenia, even if it is just to say “hello” or to pass along something funny or interesting. Beyond in-person interactions, emails, text messages, and video calls are great ways to stay in touch.

Continue to include or offer to include someone in plans without pressing too hard, even if they continuously resist invitations or agree to something and then do not do it.

8. Help them make a crisis plan

For people with mental health conditions, having a crisis plan on hand can make dealing with unexpected events easier.

Ask someone whether they have a crisis plan, and if so, whether they would be willing to talk about it or share a copy of it. Store crisis plans somewhere easy to access, like your smartphone, glove compartment, wallet, or bedside table.

If someone does not have a crisis plan prepared, help them make one. A good crisis plan should include:

  • phone numbers of family members and friends who are able to help
  • phone numbers of their therapist, psychiatrist, and other healthcare professionals
  • contact information for the nearest crisis or mental healthcare facility
  • a list of current medications and diagnoses
  • triggers
  • methods that have helped previously
  • history of psychosis, self-harm, drug use, or suicide attempts

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) also has a crisis guide available.

If someone is experiencing a mental health crisis, call 911 or take them to the nearest emergency room.

If someone is suicidal or threatening to harm themselves, seek emergency care or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org) at 800-273-8255 (TALK), or text HELLO to 741741.

Suicide prevention

If you know someone at immediate risk of self-harm, suicide, or hurting another person:

  • Ask the tough question: “Are you considering suicide?”
  • Listen to the person without judgment.
  • Call 911 or the local emergency number, or text TALK to 741741 to communicate with a trained crisis counselor.
  • Stay with the person until professional help arrives.
  • Try to remove any weapons, medications, or other potentially harmful objects.

If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, a prevention hotline can help. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24 hours per day at 800-273-8255. During a crisis, people who are hard of hearing can use their preferred relay service or dial 711 then 800-273-8255.

Click here for more links and local resources.

9. Join a support group

Trying to help someone with a mental health condition can be overwhelming. Joining a family support group can help provide a family or loved one the opportunity to:

  • share their experiences and feelings in a safe environment
  • develop supportive relationships with other people who understand what they are going through
  • learn from others’ experiences and gain new coping skills
  • learn how to forgive themselves or reject feelings of guilt
  • learn how to be less judgmental of others’ feelings or pain
  • accept their limitations and understand that no one can solve every problem
  • gain a sense of community

NAMI offers family support programs that are free, confidential, and led by family members or a loved one of people with mental health conditions such as schizophrenia. Find a local NAMI family support group here, or contact a local NAMI affiliate to start your own.

10. Do not be afraid to talk about it

Many people feel uncomfortable talking about mental health issues. Being open about mental health can allow more honest conversations that facilitate stronger support systems and allow people to share how they feel and what they are experiencing.

When approaching a conversation about someone’s mental health, make sure to first ask whether they are comfortable talking about it. Also, express that you care and are there for them.

Make sure to use “I” statements instead of “you” statements. For example, instead of saying, “You should get help,” say, “I would feel much better if you considered getting help.”

If someone shows signs of distress, fear, or confusion when you are talking to them about their mental health, slow down, back up, or redirect the conversation to something more positive and light.

It can be hard to know exactly how to help people with schizophrenia, but it can be equally difficult to know what not to do.

Some common things to avoid include:

  • making someone feel ashamed or guilty about their condition, or how they treat it
  • telling someone or suggesting that someone has to act or feel a certain way
  • telling someone how much their behavior or actions are harming others
  • making judgments about someone’s behaviors or feelings
  • using stigmatizing language such as the word “crazy”
  • trying to convince someone their hallucinations or delusions are not real
  • talking about someone’s experiences in a way that diminishes or belittles them
  • setting unrealistic goals for someone or holding them to unrealistic standards
  • talking about someone as if they are not present, even if they seem out of touch with reality
  • telling someone that everyone has challenges, or goes through a rough time, or that most people just get over things and learn to live with it
  • failing to notice when things are going well or when someone has made progress
  • asking someone whether they are taking medications or are still undergoing therapy
  • reminding someone they will require medication and monitoring their entire life

If someone refuses to treat a mental health condition, do not shut them out, make them feel guilty, or try to force them to get help or treatment.

Instead, offer encouragement. This can include reminding them that there are many ways to get help and that there are plenty of people who support them. You can also encourage them with the information that people who seek and follow treatment options can often live healthy, normal lives.

In extreme cases, such as if someone refuses treatment and is suicidal or causing danger to themselves or others, a court can grant another person the right to make decisions for them through a conservatorship.

Untreated schizophrenia can cause symptoms that are persistent, pervasive, and disabling. People with untreated schizophrenia may be more likely to:

  • attempt suicide or die by suicide
  • experience reduced cognitive abilities
  • engage in behaviors or activities that put themselves or other at risk of harm
  • be incarcerated without reason, or have interactions with the police
  • experience trouble maintaining relationships or employment
  • experience a poorer quality of life
  • become homeless
  • develop substance misuse disorder
  • develop a lower life expectancy by up to 28.5 years

Support from family and friends can play a vital role in the course of the life of someone with schizophrenia by helping them receive treatment and cope with the condition.

With effective treatment and support, many people with serious mental health conditions such as schizophrenia can live relatively normal lives.

As with most medical conditions, the sooner someone seeks and receives proper treatment, the better their chance of recovering and staying healthy. People with schizophrenia that have strong social support systems tend to fare better with the condition than those who do not.