Two million adults in the United States are living with schizophrenia. People with schizophrenia suffer from delusional thinking, emotional disturbances, an inability to distinguish reality from fantasy and difficulty making decisions. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the World Health Organization has listed the illness among its top 10 devastating diseases. However, schizophrenia is a treatable and manageable condition, provided that the person with schizophrenia receives proper treatment from psychiatrists, psychologists, counsellors and their families and friends.
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While the exact cause of schizophrenia is still unknown, evidence suggests that development of the disorder is twofold: genetics and environment. In brain comparisons between those with schizophrenia and those without the disorder, differences in brain structure and activity were found. This discovery along with other studies have led researchers to the idea that the disorder has a genetic component. The schizophrenia gene does not cause schizophrenia, but rather makes a person more vulnerable to later exhibiting its symptoms. Combined with this vulnerability, certain people who are raised in particular environments have higher risks of developing schizophrenia over those who do not have the gene. Because of the genetic component, families caring for a person with schizophrenia may worry that they caused the illness or that the illness may affect someone in a later generation.
Guilt, resentment, anger, embarrassment, confusion and hopelessness are some of the myriad emotions felt by those related to and caring for someone with schizophrenia. Parents feel guilty and resentful if they have a child with schizophrenia, as they worry that they somehow caused the illness to develop. Children of people with schizophrenia are susceptible to feelings of guilt, anger, resentment and confusion. Young children are especially vulnerable if a parent with schizophrenia involves them in their delusional thinking. Siblings of people with schizophrenia can feel confused and angry because the brother or sister developed the illness and they did not.
Having schizophrenia can make keeping a job, maintaining relationships and personal care enormously difficult. The weight of these difficulties are also endured by family members who care for a person with schizophrenia. People may be embarrassed to have other family or friends visit if the person with schizophrenia is behaving erratically or abnormally. Adolescent children of people with schizophrenia not only have to deal with the pressures of their teenage years, but the additional confusion and resentment of having a parent who is different from others. For those who are married to or in a relationship with someone with schizophrenia, simple and usually enjoyable activities like attending an event or going out to dinner can be nerve-racking. The worry is that one must control his or her partner's behaviour or that the person with schizophrenia may act out in public.
Because people with schizophrenia often act out on their delusions or feelings of paranoia, they find it difficult to maintain employment, which causes financial stress on the family caring for them. Also, for families with a schizophrenic relative, treatment causes financial strain as well. People with schizophrenia require medication, therapy and the other necessities of life to thrive. Programs such as Social Security Disability are in place to help ease the financial burden, but even applying for these programs (and waiting for the answer) can be stressful as well.
Despite the difficulties and challenges faced by families caring for someone with schizophrenia, the likelihood of a positive outcome is much greater for those with supportive families than those suffering without familial support. Families caring for or dealing with a relative with schizophrenia should also seek support and counselling. Because of the emotional, social and financial impacts that schizophrenia has on a family, members of the family should support each other and maintain a positive outlook.
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