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How to Communicate With Someone With Schizophrenia

author image Dean A. Haycock, Ph.D.
Dean A. Haycock has been a freelance science and medical writer since 1993. He is the author of "The Everything Health Guide to Schizophrenia," "The Everything Health Guide to Adult Bipolar Disorder, 2nd edition" and coauthor of "Overcoming Complications of LASIK and Other Eye Surgeries." Haycock has a Doctor of Philosophy in neurobiology from Brown University.
How to Communicate With Someone With Schizophrenia
Two men having a calm discussion outside. Photo Credit: Comstock/Stockbyte/Getty Images

Schizophrenia is a complex illness that produces many different problems. Before attempting to communicate with someone who has schizophrenia, make sure you are ready. Make sure you have calmed down if you have been frustrated by the person’s behavior. Begin the conversation when you can project a reassuring presence. Select just one issue or problem to discuss during any one conversation. Trying to discuss more than one won’t be productive. Focus on specific steps or ways to improve or change behavior, rather than voice complaints or make accusations.

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Providing Support and Expressing Understanding

Step 1

Provide a calming presence. Use a steady, neutral tone of voice to convey your emotional steadiness. This can be reassuring to someone who is troubled by their own thoughts. If the person is intellectually impaired, communication likely will require significant patience and understanding on your part. Avoid “baby talk” or talking down to the person. Use a gentle voice. Use simple sentences if the person has trouble following you or seems confused. If necessary, repeat what you have to say if the person has trouble concentrating or remembering.

Step 2

Show compassion. The British Columbia Schizophrenia Society offers this advice when communicating with someone who has schizophrenia: Don’t argue with someone who has delusions. You cannot change them. Acknowledge the effect a delusion or hallucination must have on the person. Be sympathetic and express understanding. Reduce distractions around the individual. Limit noise and people.

Step 3

Offer support. Happy talk or cheery chatter won’t help someone who is likely to experience problems associated with schizophrenia, including depression, poor self-image and a sense of insecurity. You can, however, provide reassurance that you will always be there to provide support. Let the person know she will never be alone. You can remind the person of past accomplishments and the likelihood there will be similar accomplishments in the future.

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