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Helping someone with schizophrenia

Often people who are close to the person with schizophrenia are confused and unsure about the illness and their role in helping the person recover.

They may be afraid of accidentally doing something that could make things worse.

Is it an emergency?

Get help immediately if the person:

  • has deliberately injured themselves
  • talks about suicide or killing someone else (read our fact sheet on helping a suicidal person)
  • is disorientated (does not know who they are, where there are, or what time of day it is)
  • has hallucinations (hearing or seeing things that are not real) or delusions (very strange beliefs, often based on the content of the hallucinations) 
  • is confused or not making sense.

If the person has any of these symptoms, call 000 in Australia or 111 in New Zealand, or visit the emergency department at your nearest hospital.

How to help someone with schizophrenia

If you are the family, friend or carer of someone with schizophrenia, these are some things you can do to help:

  • Focus on the person’s strengths – the things they enjoy or are good at.
  • Keep reminding them that they have a role as a member of their family and community.
  • Consider doing a family psychoeducation program. This is a chance to learn about the illness, how to communicate better and how to deal with problems. Ask someone from the health-care team about psychoeducation programs near you.
  • If you cannot join a psychoeducation program, consider making an appointment with a psychologist to learn more about schizophrenia and how you can help the person.
  • Learn to recognise the early warning signs of a psychotic episode and have a plan for what to do.
  • Learn motivational techniques to encourage the person to do things for themselves.
  • Keep track of their health-care visits and help make sure they don’t miss them.
  • Encourage them to choose someone (e.g. a friend, their partner or another family member) who will help and support them for as long as they need help. It is very important to have someone they trust who will keep trying to help them. Sometimes when a person with schizophrenia is unwell they may turn against people they are normally close to.
  • Encourage them to participate in one-to-one activities, for example card games, chess, jigsaw puzzles, walking.
  • Don’t leave them alone after a hospital visit. When someone with schizophrenia has been in hospital, the first week back at home can be very hard emotionally. During this time, people need lots of support to stay safe.

More about caring for someone with a mental illness

Things that do not help

Do not constantly remind them to take medication. Instead make a mutual plan to work together to overcome forgetfulness, and to set up a routine to follow.

What happens if the person doesn’t want help?

Generally an adult has the right to refuse treatment. But they can be treated without their consent to reduce the risk of serious harm to themselves or others, or if there is a risk that their health will seriously deteriorate.

Support and information for families

Mental Health Carers Australia
1300 554 660

SANE Australia
1800 187 263

Supporting Families in Mental Illness (New Zealand)
0800 732 825

Page last reviewed Jan 2017 | C1036V1

This is a general guide only, and does not replace individual medical advice. Please speak to your doctor for advice about your situation. The RANZCP is not liable for any consequences arising from relying on this information. Subject matter experts, people with lived experience of mental illness and carers all contributed to this fact sheet.