How to Help a Teenager with Schizophrenia
Finding out your teenager has been diagnosed with schizophrenia can be scary.
Fear. Guilt. Frustration. Confusion. You may be feeling an array of emotions, but one sticks out the most.
When dealing with a complex, life-long disorder, it’s easy to feel helpless as a parent. But, living a healthy and meaningful life with schizophrenia is possible, especially with the support of loved ones. So don’t lose hope and read on to learn how to help your teenager with schizophrenia.
One of the most effective ways to make a foreboding concept less scary is to get clarity on it. There are a lot of myths and stigma surrounding schizophrenia. It’s important to look past any preexisting bias and inform yourself on the facts. By learning about schizophrenia and how to treat it, you can make educated decisions on how to cope with symptoms and work together towards maintenance. We do a deeper dive on the symptoms in our blog here.
On top of your education of schizophrenia as an illness, you should also take the time to understand how schizophrenia specifically affects your teen. Like any illness, schizophrenia can affect people differently. Make your child feel less alone by figuring out their specific symptom warning signs together.
Keep Track of Their Treatment
It is incredibly important to make sure your teen stays on track with their schizophrenia treatment, even when symptoms subside. One of the most common causes of relapse is stopping medication. Although relapse can still occur while on medication, making sure your child continues to take antipsychotic medication as directed is one of the best ways to prevent relapse.
Some early psychotic relapse signs to look out for are:
- Experiencing visual or auditory hallucinations
- Paranoid behavior or suspiciousness
- Trouble remembering things or taking longer to problem solve
If your teen does not want to continue their medication due to unwanted side effects, take their grievances seriously. Talk to their doctor about these side effects, and together you can work to minimize them by reducing the dose or switching/adding medications.
Some additional ways to keep your teen on track:
- Set medication reminders on their phone
- Utilize weekly pillboxes, if using pills
- Discuss with their doctor about all other drugs and supplements they may be taking to avoid dangerous drug interactions
- Track their progress by noting their behavior, temperament, and other changes in a journal or mood-tracking app
Get Your Loved Ones Involved
Having the entire family informed and onboard with supporting your teen can be all the difference when dealing with schizophrenia. Learn about schizophrenia together as a family, so that the whole family can understand how to best navigate your teen’s illness. Undergoing family therapy can also be incredibly impactful, as a professional can expertly guide you and your family on how to best support your teen.
This will not only build an effective support system for your teen, but for you as well. Managing schizophrenia can be taxing for everyone involved, not just your teen. By establishing multiple pillars of support for both you and your teen, you can be realistic about how much care you are able to provide while making sure your teen is never alone.
When you are exhausted and need emotional support of your own, don’t be afraid to rely on your family and loved ones. You guys are going through this experience together, so they of all people will understand to your hardships. If you and your loved ones need additional support, joining support groups and seeking out resources together can be of help.
Have a Crisis Plan
Sometimes relapse is unavoidable, so having a plan to deal with crisis situations ahead of time can be instrumental in helping your teen. It’s easy to panic when an acute psychotic episode occurs, but having a good emergency plan can give everyone the guidance they need to get through it. Having your plan written down and placed in an easy access location will help anyone who may need it in the future.
An emergency plan for your teen with schizophrenia should include:
- Address and phone number of the hospital your teen will be psychiatrically admitted to
- Your teen’s doctor and therapist emergency contact information
- Trusted individuals who can take over child/dependent care while you are addressing your teen’s crisis
- Instructions for when you or another caregiver are not present
Make sure to go through the emergency plan with your entire family so that everyone can feel equipped to handle potential crises. When you are entrusting another individual to look over your teen while you are gone, notify them of where and when to access the emergency plan.
Support Them Through Their Symptoms
Delusions, hallucinations, and paranoia might not be real to you, but they are very real to your teen. Avoid arguing, even if it’s well-intentioned. Your job isn’t to prove to your teen what is reality and what isn’t, your job is to help your teen feel safe and in control.
Some of the best ways to help your teen through their symptoms are:
- Speak slowly, simply, and calmly. Do not laugh or whisper. They may be very frightened/paranoid, so make sure to speak in a soothing way to prevent exacerbating their fear.
- Do not touch them without their permission, and give them space for their safety and yours
- Remind them who you are, and that you are here to help them through this.
- Ask them to explain their experience. Don’t pretend that you are also experiencing their symptoms, but don’t deny their experience either. Phrases like “I don’t see what you see, but I believe that you are seeing it” can be validating without confirming their break from reality.
- If things look like they will escalate dangerously, refer to your crisis plan.
Dealing with schizophrenia may seem daunting, but with preparation and the support of your loved ones, you and your teen can face it together. Left untreated, schizophrenia can have severe consequences on an individual’s quality of life, relationships, and overall well-being. Therefore, it is essential to seek professional treatment for schizophrenia as early as possible to manage the symptoms and improve the individual’s daily functioning.
Hillcrest Adolescent Treatment Center specializes in providing comprehensive care for behavioral health and personality disorders, including schizophrenia. With a team of experienced professionals, Hillcrest incorporates evidence-based therapies, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), and family therapy, to address the complex challenges associated with schizophrenia. If you or a loved one need extra support in helping your teen, our center provides a rehabilitation haven for your child to get back on track. Our individualized programs cater to your child’s needs and recovery goals in mind, and are equipped to treat co-occurring disorders as well. For more information, contact our admissions team today.