The COVID-19 pandemic may place additional strain on those with schizophrenia and other forms of mental illness. It may exacerbate symptoms and make coping with schizophrenia more challenging.

Schizophrenia does not directly increase a person’s chances of contracting COVID-19.

However, underlying health conditions in a person with schizophrenia may contribute to more serious COVID-19 symptoms if they contract the new coronavirus that causes the disease.

In this article, we explore the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on those with schizophrenia. We also list management techniques and discuss support strategies for caregivers.

a woman doing mindfulness at home because it helps with her Schizophrenia during the COVID-19 pandemicShare on Pinterest
Practicing mindfulness may help a person with schizophrenia cope during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The COVID-19 pandemic may have a profound effect on mental health. Those with schizophrenia will likely need to take additional steps to manage their mental health during a pandemic.

Here are some ways to cope:

  • Follow the treatment plan. People should take their medications exactly as their doctor prescribes. They should not stop taking their medicines, or change the dosage, without medical guidance.
  • Avoid alcohol and illicit drugs. These substances can make the symptoms of schizophrenia worse. Those who use alcohol and illicit drugs should speak to their doctor about quitting. Learn more about treating addiction here.
  • Practice stress management techniques. It may be helpful for an individual to try meditation, yoga, or mindfulness techniques to aid relaxation.
  • Stick to a routine. Setting and sticking to a daily and weekly routine can help people maintain their personal hygiene, fitness, and home life.
  • Make time for enjoyable activities. A person can spend some time each day engaging in hobbies or other enjoyable activities, such as art or music.
  • Eat a balanced diet. A healthful diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and good fats can support mental health. Limiting or avoiding processed and junk foods will add to a healthful diet plan. Learn more about following a healthful diet here.
  • Exercise. Aiming for at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity most days of the week is advisable. Research indicates that aerobic exercise can improve symptom severity in those with schizophrenia.
  • Get enough sleep. Sleep problems are common among those with schizophrenia and can make symptoms worse. Practice good sleep hygiene and try to get 7–9 hours’ sleep a night. Learn tips on sleeping well here. Individuals with persistent sleep issues should address them with their doctor.
  • Stay connected to others. It can help manage mental health issues to engage with family and friends through telephone calls, online video chat applications, or in other ways. Online support groups for people with schizophrenia can also be beneficial.
  • Limit exposure to information about the pandemic. Limiting exposure to news sources and social media to a few minutes, once or twice a day is a good practice. For the most accurate information, people should consult reputable sources, such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
  • Seek professional help if necessary. People who are struggling to cope should contact their doctor or psychiatrist. These healthcare professionals may recommend changes to medications or offer online therapy sessions.

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Those supporting someone with schizophrenia may need to take additional steps to help manage their symptoms during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Self-care for caregivers may be especially important at this time, as well.

The following advice and tips may be helpful:

  • Check the guidelines. Caregivers should check local and state guidelines to see if they can still visit others to provide care. Typically, guidelines allow for caring for a vulnerable person.
  • Practice physical distancing and hand hygiene. Where possible, caregivers must try to stay at least 2 meters (6 feet) away from others. They should also wear a mask if people show symptoms or live in a different household. Washing hands thoroughly and regularly is vital, as well. Learn about proper hand washing techniques here.
  • Provide support and encouragement. A caregiver can help by supporting and encouraging those with mental health issues to take their medication, stick to their routine, and practice good self-care. If it is not possible to meet face-to-face, they can connect through phone calls, messages, and video calls.
  • Stay vigilant. It is important to be aware that the pandemic may cause worsening schizophrenia symptoms. If it appears that a person’s symptoms are getting worse, or if more hallucinations or delusions present, a caregiver should contact the person’s doctor immediately.
  • Contact social services if necessary. Local social care support can help people with schizophrenia to shop for food or medications, clean their home, manage their money, and more.
  • Practice self-care. Caregivers must look after themselves too, by eating well, exercising regularly, managing stress, and getting enough sleep.

The COVID-19 crisis may exacerbate the symptoms of schizophrenia. According to a case report, the pandemic may trigger coronavirus-related hallucinations and delusions, along with changes in mood.

The patient in the report responded well to medication. However, the case highlights the need for people with schizophrenia, and their caregivers, to be aware of the potential effects of the pandemic on mental health.

While having a mental illness does not directly increase a person’s risk of contracting COVID-19, it may indirectly increase their risk of getting sick, or of experiencing severe symptoms.

For example, rates of smoking are markedly higher in those with schizophrenia than in the general population. Smokers are potentially more susceptible to COVID-19.

Also, those with mental health conditions are more likely to experience homelessness or residential instability than others. This can raise the risk of illness and make it harder to treat and follow up with those who are sick.

When schizophrenia symptoms worsen, individuals may neglect basic self-care practices, such as eating a balanced diet and getting enough sleep. They may also neglect to practice physical distancing and proper hand washing.

Additionally, substance misuse may occur. These factors further increase the risk of infection.

Having an underlying condition can increase mortality rates among those with COVID-19. Over 70% of people with schizophrenia have one or more medical conditions that may raise their risk, such as:

For this reason, people with schizophrenia must take steps to manage their condition and to keep healthy.

Individuals should seek help if they are struggling to cope with the stresses of the COVID-19 pandemic, or if they notice their symptoms getting worse.

Caregivers should seek medical attention if they notice a change in the hallucinations or delusions that someone with schizophrenia is experiencing.

It is also vital to call a doctor for advice if symptoms of COVID-19 develop. Learn about COVID-19 symptoms here.

Living through the COVID-19 crisis may make symptoms of mental illness worse. It may contribute to coronavirus-related hallucinations or delusions in those with schizophrenia. It may also exacerbate other symptoms.

In some cases, some people with schizophrenia may be at increased risk of contracting the virus or experiencing more severe symptoms.

Individuals and their caregivers can take steps to reduce the impact of the pandemic on mental health. If worsening symptoms occur, it is important to reach out to a health professional immediately.

Prompt treatment can alleviate symptoms and lead to improved health outcomes.