As mentioned yesterday a diagnosis of schizophrenia usually comes after an individual has a major break with reality, commonly called psychosis. It is often referred to as “leave taking,” and is characterized by the victim’s withdrawal into a delusional realm of their illness. The victim feels as though they become unmoored like a boat drifting away, while their family helplessly watches from the shore. It is a terribly frightening experience for the victim as well as their family.
Symptoms that may occur in the stage leading up to a major psychotic episode…
- The person affected by schizophrenia will sometimes feel as though his/her senses are heightened. Sounds are louder, colors become more vivid, or objects seem to shimmer. There is no apparent way to stop the stimuli.
- Thought blocking occurs in 95% of the cases and is often interpreted by the sufferer as “someone taking thoughts out of my head.”
- Withdrawal, flat emotions, sleeplessness, and agitation
- Illogical beliefs and social and occupational dysfunction
Symptoms that may occur in the active stage of psychosis…
- Panic, anxiety, and angry outbursts
- Severe emotional blunting
- Rigidity of the body
- Grossly disorganized behavior
- Delusions and hallucinations (hearing voices)
- When psychosis strikes, you will find that you can no longer reason with your relative or persuade them on the basis of your prior relationship.
If a family member is afflicted with schizophrenia, sooner or later a serious crisis will occur. The individual with schizophrenia may not recognize or may not be able to express what he or she is experiencing. Before a crisis hits, family members usually observe symptoms before the patient. They should not delay in seeking medical help.
What should family members do when they see symptoms of an episode coming on?
- Call the doctor immediately and take the patient to the ER
- Stay calm and trust your intuition
- Do not argue, use a quiet voice, don’t threaten, don’t criticize, don’t bait the patient
- Do not stand directly over the patient
- Do not block doorways, but keep yourself between the patient and an exit
- Avoid direct, continuous eye contact or touching the patient
- If needed, call the police and ask for help from a mental health crises team
*This information is taken from the National Alliance on Mental Illness education materials.
Dorothy Ruppert, Author of “God Placed Her in My Path – Lessons Learned from the Furnace of Bipolar Disorder.”