How to cope with a child who has schizophrenia

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Acrylic of Patensie, Eastern Cape, by Rayne Bradshaw

In the history of this country today celebrates a very famous and worthy South African.

It is also World Mental Health Day. Time to reflect on caring for someone who has a mental disorder such as schizophrenia. 

When a child is diagnosed with schizophrenia or bipolar, the family life undergoes great upheaval. The family can break down. It is a devastating diagnosis.

If time is on your side, you can do something about it. Why time’ Because it takes time to get your child onto the right medication, deal with emotional issues, observe and identify strange behaviour and assist your child to get into a regular regime. I remember when I was young my late father hated routine. But it is exactly what a child with schizophrenia requires.

There’s also a need to set clear boundaries and standards of behaviour. You don’t want a situation where your child runs amok and your household or family ends up in chaos.

The right medication is critical. But even more important is that the child takes the medication. In my experience, I have found that females with schizophrenia are more prone to take their medicine. With males, they often think that they can drop their medication and that they will be fine. The consequence – back to psychiatric hospital care. Remember, that it can take up to three months to get the patient back onto the right psychiatric medicine and achieve stabilization (for the psychosis and emotional side).

Concentration or focus is poor and motivation is low. No wonder then that a recent journal article states that up to 80 to 90% of people with schizophrenia are unemployed. 

The challenge therefore is primarily to establish well-being and happiness with your child (as far as you humanely can). That is the main goal. The second, is livelihood exploration. Let your child experiment with possible futures. If after their episodes and relapses they come out as high functioning, perhaps then you may look towards part-time or fixed-time work. Of course, there are those who are lucky (for various reasons) and come out high functioning after their first episode. They will be able to pursue their livelihood or occupation. By lucky I mean able to hold down a job. People with schizophrenia also fear employers and do their utmost not to disclose their condition. Employers will say they don’t discriminate but the reality unfortunately is far different.

Looking after someone schizophrenia is not for sissies. It takes a cool head, calm heart, much patience, a network of supporters and financial resources. But please note here that the financial side is vital. If you can, take breaks away from your child to get perspective. If you can’t, at least partition your life so that you can have moments of quiet time,. Even when things look at their very worst, I have seen parents, caregivers, find solutions when they didn’t believe that there were any.

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