Schizophrenia's Effect on Relationships

The symptoms of schizophrenia do not just separate people with the disease from others; they construct giant barriers between them. Overcoming these barriers is often one of the biggest challenges for consumers of mental health care.


The first months or years of dealing with the disease can be the most challenging. First, you find that you are facing a serious disorder with which you have no experience. You need time to learn about the nature of the disease, its treatments, and the strengths and weaknesses of the mental health care system. In addition, you must handle the psychological stresses caused by the appearance of the disease and its implications.

Second, it often takes time to settle on effective therapies. Anti-psychotic medications may need to be tried and their doses adjusted. Side effects, if they appear, need to be treated. And it may take time to find a psychiatrist and other mental health care workers you feel comfortable working with.

Until fairly recently, a diagnosis of schizophrenia promised a good chance of serious mental impairment for life. Fortunately, that has changed. Most people who are diagnosed with schizophrenia today respond well to treatment and are able to function nearly as well as they did before the disease began to wreak havoc on their lives.

Serious Internal Distractions

Hallucinations, delusions, and bizarre behavior turn people inward. It is impossible to focus on routine tasks and social interactions when you are dealing with voices that comment on your every action, or when you are living with the knowledge that special messages just for you are being broadcast on the news or hidden in street signs.

Many people know little about mental illness. What they do know is often colored by inaccurate depictions they have seen in films or read about in the media. The average person does not make an effort to establish or even maintain a casual or intimate relationship with someone struggling with severe mental illness. Consequently, people struggling with psychosis often lose established relationships, and more than half never marry.

Lost Social Skills

Most people learn how to socialize in adolescence and early adulthood. This is just when schizophrenia is most likely to appear. As a result, some social skills are never learned and others are lost.

Old friends fall away. Finding new, good friends takes a lot of work, and it is made more difficult by lingering symptoms. The result may be a loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities and a lack of initiative. It may become difficult to concentrate and plan, to understand and adapt.

This makes meeting people, getting to know them, and participating in the give-and-take of social interaction very difficult. Until they learn about the nature of schizophrenia, even family members can become alienated from someone dealing with the disorder. Schizophrenia changes people, but there is hope. With symptom control, therapy, and practice, patients can regain many of these skills.

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