Top 10 Tips
These are tips that other relatives have found helpful. Feel free to use the ones you like and ignore the ones you don’t.
Tip 1 – Take Care of Yourself
This problem may last some time. To last the distance you need to pace yourself.
Keep doing the things that keep you healthy, happy and out of debt. Keep your own life on track. Keep up with friends, work and family. Elliot’s Mum and Dad learned how important it was to them to live in a home where they could still invite friends round. They rely on services to help Elliot with the practicalities of life so that they can go to work.
Tip 2 – Try Not to Show Your Frustration and Anger
This will only increase tension and makes everyone more jumpy. It may get things done today but makes it harder next time.
Elliot’s Mum hated seeing his room, couldn’t help thinking it was a “disgrace” and couldn’t help shouting at him. In the end she had to accept that Elliot was doing his best but his illness made this difficult for him. She installed an air freshener on the landing outside his bedroom and asked him to keep the door closed.
Tip 3 – Think About the Bigger Picture
For most people, recovery involves finding ways to get enjoyment and fulfilment out of life. The satisfaction of getting day-to-day jobs done isn’t enough to motivate many people. But they might very well be able to find ‘passions’ to enjoy and get a sense of satisfaction from these.
Elliot’s Dad realised that in the long term a tidy room didn’t matter too much. It was probably more important that Elliot had friends and family around him and things he enjoyed doing.
Sharing the pleasures of exercise together made Elliot and his Dad closer and made Elliot feel valued.
Tip 4 – Try Not to Nag
Criticism, nagging or complaining about someone’s behaviour can get them to behave better, but only in the short term. Psychosis can make people super-sensitive to criticism, too much of which could make symptoms worse in some circumstances. It won’t make you feel any better either.
Elliot’s thinking problems had made it hard for him to understand that his parents were nagging primarily because of their concern for him. He just felt victimised.
Mum and Dad learned to understand this and how to avoid telling him off for what he had not done. At the same time they made sure to praise him for what he had done.
Tip 5 – Reward Every Effort by Making a ‘Song and Dance’ About it
Negative symptoms and thinking problems make it harder to do things without prompts. It’s also harder to remember about things you’ve done well in the past.
Give clear and enthusiastic feedback for all successes and attempts.
Make sure the person is surrounded by things which will remind them of the good things they have done.
Elliot’s Mum and Dad learned to notice whenever Elliot had made an effort with his appearance, tidiness or activity of any kind. They’d say “you’ve had a shave today, you look really nice”, or “I noticed that you put your breakfast things in the dishwasher, I’m so pleased you saved me a job”.
Mum and Dad made a special effort to make a fuss of all the important events in Elliot’s recovery. They had his certificates from the college course framed and put up in the hall. There were pin boards in the kitchen and Elliot’s bedroom with photos of him enjoying himself at parties, weddings and other family events. There were team photos from the football group and the squash coaching.
Noticing and praising small steps towards recovery can really help.
Tip 6 – Make it Very Clear What You Mean
Negative symptoms can make it much harder to pay attention and to understand the subtleness of speech and body language.
Keep conversations simple: use short sentences with clear, unambiguous meanings. e.g. paying a compliment – “It really made me pleased when you tidied your room”. (Remember, make it sound as if you mean it!)
Tip 7 – Show Kindness and Understanding
You know how much you love and want the best for your relative/friend. Negative symptoms, however, can make it more difficult to detect and understand the little signs of care and affection that we will normally take for granted.
If you feel that you have lost the person you knew and loved:
- Do something together you both enjoy: Elliot and his Dad went jogging together
- Try to share in their successes: They may seem small but may have taken tremendous effort and courage. Show your feelings of pride
- Explain the person’s problems to close friends and family. If you can this will stop you having to make excuses, and will help others understand
Tip 8 – Don’t Carry the Burden Alone
Negative symptoms can be very persistent. Family members who get frustrated, burnt out and angry can end up risking their own health and well-being.
- Make sure that mental health services know the severity of the person’s difficulties
- If you are not happy with the care plan that’s delivered, speak your mind
- Ensure that you get a carer’s assessment. See module “Understanding mental health services” for more details on this
- Talk to other carers, relatives and experts
Tip 9 – Encourage Some Structure and Routine
Negative symptoms make it difficult to achieve normal tasks such as self care, taking tablets and attending appointments. Try to help the person stick to a regular routine. By sticking to a routine yourself, this may help your relative.
It was hard for Elliot to do things without having to be reminded, but once he had help to start a task, he was more able to carry things through. Sometimes it can help to give a reward for specific tasks e.g. “If you keep your room tidy for a week then we’ll all go out for a pizza at the weekend”.
Tip 10 – Remember No One is Perfect
Some people who have experienced psychosis may have to struggle all their lives to cope with negative symptoms and the problems they bring. Even the best care package and supportive family might only solve some of the problems. As well, you might be putting pressure on someone who just can’t do what you ask, or who isn’t ready for it just yet; what will happen then is more arguments, more stress, and they might even start to get ill again.
Sometimes it feels as if you are banging your head against a brick wall and that nothing you try works. In these circumstances, it pays to try and be relaxed, normal and accepting of the person (though easier said than done). Elliot’s Mum and Dad had to learn to accept that he just couldn’t do some things as well as he could before he became unwell.