The Emotional and Physical Toll of Schizophrenia on Your Family

Schizophrenia is a severe, debilitating brain disorder that typically presents in your 20’s and 30’s. Symptoms commonly associated with this disorder include: hallucinations, delusions, illogical speech, confused thinking, catatonia, irritability, agitation, etc. Schizophrenia not only affects you, it also affects your family. If you suffer from schizophrenia, you probably have a hard time maintaining relationships, a job and/or your personal hygiene. It is important to remember that this disorder affects not only you, but also the people who love you.

The Psychological Effects of Schizophrenia on Your Family:

When you are struggling with schizophrenia it is easy to overlook how the disorder is affecting your family. Your family members are active participants in your fight to manage your condition. In order to maintain their emotional health, your loved ones must reach deep inside themselves to find the strength to cope with the devastating effects of schizophrenia. It is important to remember that your family members experience a variety of conflicting emotions stemming from their own feelings of anger, guilt, fear and inadequacy and the stigma often associated with the disorder.

Schizophrenia can affect your family in the following ways:

Despair & Anxiety

Schizophrenia can cause severe despair and anxiety. Your family members may experience psychological distress when they are confronted with the incapacitating effects of schizophrenia. At the center of their despair is an overpowering sense of mourning. Your family may grieve for the person that you once were, before the disorder, altered your life forever. You are no longer the healthy and productive child, parent, spouse that you once were. Despair over your condition can trigger an overwhelming sense of anxiety within the family. You loved ones may be extremely conflicted; not knowing or understanding how to help you and/or fearing that you will harm yourself or others.

Shame

Shame is another emotion that may plague your family members as they struggle to cope with your condition. It is not surprising that they are tormented by the stigma associated with schizophrenia. Your loved ones, especially your parents, may feel like they are to blame for your condition. They may experience an overwhelming sense of guilt for passing down the genes that caused the disorder. They may also experience shame if they have to place you in an institution or group home because they cannot provide you with the care that you need.

Anger & Resentment

Schizophrenia can also cause anger and resentment within your family. It is not uncommon for you to become bitter when you realize that you cannot rid yourself of this chronic disorder. You may not be able to understand why this happened to you. You may cope with your own conflicting feelings by shutting out those who love you most – your family. Isolating yourself from your family members may cause them to feel underappreciated, which can lead to anger, bitterness and resentment.

The Physical Effects of Schizophrenia on the Family:

It is not uncommon for family members to sacrifice their freedom, relationships, careers and social life to help manage your condition. It is important for you to realize that caring for someone who suffers from schizophrenia can be quite challenging and time consuming. Your caregivers may feel that the disease isolates them from others who do not share the same concerns and worries. They may feel that no one understands what they are going through. Furthermore, if your condition deteriorates and you can no longer care for yourself, it is your caregivers who are forced to quit their jobs and care for you full-time. Therefore, schizophrenia not only affects your quality of life, but also the lives of your loved ones.

Schizophrenia can affect your family in the following ways:

Financial Struggles

Schizophrenia does not have a cure, which can put a financial strain on your family. This disorder generally requires varying levels of treatment, which can create a heavy financial burden on your family. Your loved ones can incur a sizable debt from the long-term schizophrenia treatments. Insurance companies typically vary in their coverage of mental illness, therefore depending on your age and the severity of your disorder, your medical coverage may be limited. Fortunately if you are unable to work due to your condition, you may be able to receive government assistance (disability, Medicaid, etc.), to help with the cost of care.

Health Issues

The emotional and physical effects of schizophrenia can also weaken your caregivers’ immune systems and cause health problems. It is not uncommon for your loved ones to become consumed with your illness; it is also not uncommon for them to forget to eat, get an adequate amount of sleep, spend time with friends and/or do things that make them happy or give them pleasure. Over time and with continual stress, despair and anxiety, your loved ones may experience significant weight loss, burnout, infections, diseases, viruses, sleeping irregularities and/or clinical depression.

References:

Thorsen, G. B., Gronnestad, T. & Oxnevad, A. L. (2006). Family and multi-family work with psychosis: A guide for professionals (The international society for the psychological treatments of the schizophrenias and other psychoses). New York, NY: Routledge.

Mueser, K. T. & Gingerich, S. (2006). The complete family guide to schizophrenia: Helping your loved one get the most out of life. New York, NY: Guilford Press.

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