Schizophrenia: How it Affects the Family

Mental illness is one of the most common afflictions in the United States, and schizophrenia is the most severe; yet mental illnesses carry a huge social stigma (National Institute of Mental Health, “The Numbers Count” and “Schizophrenia”). Forming stereotypes and initiating stigmas, when a person lacks knowledge, is a common practice in our society in regards to mental illnesses. Most of the stereotypes and stigmas, surrounding schizophrenia, are derived from the way this terrible disease manifests and presents itself. The symptoms involved in this illness are often frightening to those looking in from the outside, making it easy to assume that the person afflicted is dangerous or even violent. This often disabling disorder, when not understood by others, can lead to the assumption that those suffering with schizophrenia are better off locked away in institutions, rather than risk them becoming a violent threat to society, or another addition to the homeless factor in the United States. Despite the over two million men and women, in America, inflicted by Schizophrenia, society still continues to place a stigma on mental illness, and increases the stress level for the family members who, too often must oversee their loved one’s care; and through an understanding of what affects this disease has on family members, will bring about a compassionate awareness of this devastating disorder.

It is easy to overlook the family members, who are also affected by the disease, that afflicts their loved one. They are the first hand witnesses to a disease, which manifests itself on several different levels; and the family members must somehow find the strength to cope and endure. The family members experience a magnitude of emotions due to the behaviors and situations schizophrenics present to them, and circumstance stemming from society’s view on mental illness. The following are some ways in which schizophrenia affects the family member: stress and anguish, guilt and shame, bitterness, sacrifice, limited financial resources, and diminished personal health and wellness (Long, “How Schizophrenia Affects the Family”).

As each symptom surfaces for the schizophrenic, stress and anguish wear at the family members, who are drawn into this disease. At the center of this stress and anguish is an overwhelming sense of sorrow. As mentioned on the web site, Internet Mental Health, the family may feel as though they have lost their loved one (Long, “How Schizophrenia Affects the Family”). Whether it is a son, daughter, mother, father, wife, husband, brother, or sister, the family member is aware that this person at one time was healthy and normal; but now, is no longer the same person. With the sorrow comes fear, fearing what they do not know about the disease, fearing what they do know about the disease, and fearing the possibility that their loved one may harm their self or someone else (Long, “How Schizophrenia Affects the Family”). These fears are realistic, especially when considering schizophrenics and the incidence of suicide. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) has noted, “Suicide is a serious danger in people who have schizophrenia,” and “Approximately ten percent of people with schizophrenia (especially younger adult males) commit suicide.” Therefore, families do have reason to be fearful of this possibility. Also, as hard as it may be for a family member, of a schizophrenic, to see amongst the irrational behaviors they witness, harming others is a less likely occurrence; since schizophrenics tend to recluse and isolate themselves from society. According to NIMH, “Studies indicate that except for those persons with a record of criminal violence before becoming ill, and those with substance abuse or alcohol problems, people with Schizophrenia are not especially prone to violence” (NIMH, “Schizophrenia”).

Along with sorrow and fear, family members are also stricken by guilt and shame brought on by this mental illness. According to information on the Internet Mental Health web site, family somehow feels as if they may be to blame for their loved one’s condition; and genetic linkage as one of the possible causes of the disease leads to more feelings of guilt. When a family is faced with having to place the person in an institution, they feel a sense of guilt, because they could not do more for the person. At times, there is an amount of shame experienced by family members, who are dealing with a schizophrenic loved one (Long, “How Schizophrenia Affects the Family”). Shame due to how society stigmatizes mental illness and the person inflicted with it; and shame from inappropriate behaviors that the inflicted engages in, when they are in a social setting. If onlookers do not understand why the person acts this way, it becomes easy to dismiss
it as crazy; and even if onlookers did know the cause, it is still easy to label a person crazy. It is often the family members who are aware; they absorb the comments, and the brunt of the stereotypes and stigmas.

Bitterness is also a common emotion the family of a schizophrenic may feel. The Internet Mental Health website suggests, “They are bitter because they cannot understand why this may be happening to them”; and they are bitter from how consumed they are by this disease, which often keeps them as isolated as their loved one (Long, “How Schizophrenia Affects the Family”). This can lead to resentment of all the time they spend caring for this person. They must keep a close eye on their schizophrenic loved one, making sure medication is taken, making sure they do not place themselves into a predicament which can result in harm. Schizophrenia takes precedence in the lives of those involved with the schizophrenic.

Family members, who take on the role of caregiver, often must sacrifice their careers and social life. Caring for someone inflicted with schizophrenia can be time consuming, and those who fulfill the role feel alone, and may not feel anyone understands what they are going through (Long, “How Schizophrenia Affects the Family”). Because the disease can be debilitating to the schizophrenic, the caregiver may be forced to give up their job, and care for their loved one full time. The behavior displayed by their loved one may be embarrassing, and this may cause them to avoid attending social functions. Schizophrenia can shatter the goals and dreams of both the schizophrenic, and the family members who sacrifices to become the caregiver.

As if dealing with the seriousness of schizophrenia is not enough to endure; the family may face struggles due to limited financial resources to meet the demands of long term treatment. Schizophrenia does not have a cure, and since it requires varying treatments it can become a financial burden to family members. Depending on the age of the person suffering from schizophrenia, there may be a limited medical coverage for them. Insurance companies vary in their coverage of mental illness, because the demands of care are often long term and costly. When the loved one is not able to work or is a child, they may have to apply for disability, Medicaid, and other forms of public assistance to help with the cost of care. For some with this disease, they do not meet the criteria of total disability; therefore, limited resources are made available to them. This unfair treatment of mental illness has lead to the push for mental health parity. Mental comments, “Mental health parity is the term used to describe the effort to create an equal health insurance system that covers mental illness in the same way that it covers physical illnesses” (“Mental Health Insurance Parity”). The Bush Administration originally supported mental health parity, but as of recent, legislation efforts have been stopped. As of June, 2004, legislation for mental health parity was blocked from passage (“Lobbyists Block Mental Health Parity”). This reflects society’s inability to equate mental illness as a disease.

Another affect schizophrenia has on family members, is their personal health and wellness diminishes. Becoming consumed by their loved one’s illness, they forget to take care of themselves. Some of the health related issues affecting the family are weight loss, inability to sleep, and their own mental illness of depression, which is mentioned on the Internet Mental Health web page (Long, “How Schizophrenia Affects the Family”). Weight loss occurs from the constant vigilance that has to go into caring for the schizophrenic and the family member forgets to take care of their selves. There may be an inability to sleep or insomnia because they are so consumed with caring, and watching their loved one. Depression can occur due to the family member dealing with so many emotions and witnessing this dreadful disease as it affects the schizophrenic. This can eventually lead to “burnout” for the family member, which is why it is necessary for the family member to seek support. As stated on Internet Mental Health, “The other reason for joining a support group early is to find ways of avoiding the burnout that so often comes with the burden of caring for someone with schizophrenia” (Long, “Schizophrenia: A Handbook for Families”). It is important for the family members to know that there is help out there for them, and to seek it so they do not wind up sick.

To summate how schizophrenia affects the family, one can look to the example given in the Ron Howard box office hit “A Beautiful Mind.” This movie offers a Hollywood glimpse into lives confronted by schizophrenia. Though this story depicts the true schizophrenic life of John Forbes Nash, JR., it reflects a more positive outcome for this schizophrenic; however, this is not always the case (“A Beautiful Mind”). Schizophrenia is not just devastating to the person who is
inflicted; instead, it is an often devastating journey of crisis for a whole family. The experience can often leave a family destroyed, or bind them unconditionally. The Schizophrenic and their family are afflicted with so much turmoil, and suffer not only because of the debilitating symptoms of the disease, but because of too little care, and not enough understanding. There is added challenges due too the unfounded and misplaced stigmas. Society is compassionate toward the terminally ill, and those inflicted by diseases of other bodily systems; then why not have the same compassion for those inflicted with diseases of the brain? Is the brain not a system of the body? As with all mental illnesses in the United States, the public should become aware and tolerant of those who are suffering; and stop feeding the stigmas, and start pushing for equal treatment and funding for mental health related disorders.

Work Cited

“A Beautiful Mind.” Universal Studios and Dreamworks LLC. 2001. 7 July 2004

“Lobbyists Block Mental Health Parity.” CNN News Services 22 June 2004. 6 Jul. 2004

Long, Phillip W. “How Schizophrenia Affects the Family.” April 2001. Internet Mental
Health. British Colombia Schizophrenia Society. 6 July 2004

– -. “Schizophrenia.” 2001. Internet Mental Health. 18 July 2004

– -. “Schizophrenia: A Handbook for Families.” 1996. Internet Mental
Health. Health Canada and Schizophrenia Society of Canada. 7 July 2004

“Mental Health Insurance Parity.” Mental Better Every Day. 6 July 2004

“Schizophrenia.” 1999. NIMH. National Institute of Mental Health. 9 July 2004

“The Numbers Count: Mental Disorders in America.” 2001. NIMH. National Institute of
Mental Health. 6 July 2004 .

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