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Managing Negative Symptoms of Schizophrenia

The desire to connect, or be part of positive social relations with others, is a basic human goal. However, some people living with schizophrenia don’t enjoy social activities as much. 

They may also have trouble:

  • Engaging with others

  • Starting tasks

  • Getting motivated to start and finish activities

These are called negative symptoms. Negative symptoms are lasting and are linked to poor functioning in the community. They can be a major source of burden for the caregiver and lead to family problems. Although treatments for schizophrenia exist, they do not fully tackle negative symptoms. Even with treatment, people with schizophrenia are more likely to feel socially isolated and not enjoy social contact as much as people who don’t have serious mental illness.

Fortunately, there are strategies that family members can use to help their loved ones manage negative symptoms in their own lives. They can also help them cope with the emotions of living with a loved one who experiences the negative symptoms.

Here are some strategies to try. Family members can try these out and see which ones feel right for them. They are:

  • Understand negative symptoms. Negative symptoms can get better, but it often takes some time. Remember that what you may see as "being lazy" or “having an attitude problem" is part of the illness of schizophrenia. Try not to expect too much, too fast. Provide a sense of hope by recognizing even small changes or improvements. This can offer important support to your loved one.

  • Identify activities and goals together. Learn about your loved one’s personal recovery goals and encourage them to focus on and make progress towards those goals. Helping your loved one work on things of personal importance and value can help improve their interest and motivation.

  • Make suggestions. Gently suggest things to do. These could be social events or small tasks around the house. When you make suggestions, follow these steps:

    • Say exactly what you mean. Don't expect your loved one to read your mind or understand subtle hints. For example, ask "Could you help me sweep the floor?" and not "It would be nice if the floors were cleaned."

    • If you are suggesting something the person once liked to do, remind them of this.

    • If your loved one acts on your suggestion, praise the person, no matter how small you might think it is.

    • If your family member doesn't act on your suggestion, don't push them to do it. This may make your loved one feel worse. Remember that your loved one will act when they can.

  • Make a plan. Help your loved one make a plan to accomplish a task each day. Be specific: define the task, give them a clear set of steps to get it done, tell them what could get in the way of finishing it, and explain how to overcome barriers.

  • Use peers. Peers are people living with a serious mental illness or family members who have experience coping with a loved one’s mental illness. Partnering with a peer can improve your loved one’s confidence re-connecting in the community. Finding a family peer can mean having someone to talk to who understands what you are going through and can offer tips, advice, or a listening ear.

  • Ask for help. Getting the help of others who care about you and your loved one can be helpful. You don’t need to go it alone. 

  • Find activities that make you happy. Find something that makes you feel good and do it regularly. Think about the activities that make you happy and plan to do them. Schedule these pleasant activities so that you have time set aside to do them. The goal is to make sure you do more of what makes you feel happy. 

Author: StayWell Custom Communications
Last Annual Review Date: 3/1/2019
Copyright © The StayWell Company, LLC. except where otherwise noted.
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