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Schizophrenia is a chronic and severe neurological disorder that is listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5). It is characterized by episodes in which the individual is unable to distinguish between real and unreal experiences. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIH) explains that schizophrenia is “a serious mental illness that affects how a person thinks, feels, and behaves.” The distorted thinking patterns that present with schizophrenia can lead to disabling symptoms, as they can interfere with an individual’s ability to function in his or her daily life. The signs and symptoms of schizophrenia vary from person to person, but most commonly involve disorganized speech, visual and/ or auditory hallucinations, delusions, certain antisocial behavior patterns (e.g., involuntary movements, poor hygiene practices, catatonia, etc.), and interpersonal relationship issues. A 2015 study aimed at assessing language and communication issues in people with schizophrenia, found that participants showed difficulties with higher-order language processing, such as:

  • Understanding implied information
  • Understanding humor
  • Interpreting metaphors
  • Understanding emotion in language, as well as rhythm and intonation
  • Using language to exchange ideas
  • Withholding inappropriate comments

Hence, without proper knowledge, communicating and engaging someone diagnosed with schizophrenia can be tricky. Psych Central provides the following suggestions to help enhance communication and engagement when interacting with someone that is diagnosed with schizophrenia:

    • Educate yourself on the condition: You are more likely to respond to difficult behaviors in a less reactive manner when the underlying cause for the behavior is understood.
    • Become an active listener: Keep distractions to a minimum and provide them with your undivided attention. Ask questions and repeat back what they have said to show that you heard them accurately.
    • Have patience during conversations: It is important to give them some time and space to process what you say, as they may have trouble staying on track or gathering their thoughts during conversations.
    • Be a source of validation: Whenever possible, acknowledge and validate their feelings, even if you do not fully agree with their beliefs.
    • Scaffold information: To help them understand what you are saying, break down information or tasks into simpler steps. 
  • Be direct: Speak clearly and use short sentences, in a calm and non-threatening voice.
  • Offer encouragement: If they experience low motivation, help boost their motivation by acknowledging and praising them when they complete tasks.

Schizophrenia is estimated to affect 1.1 percent of the population, or approximately 2.8 million adults, in the United States aged 18 or older. Although its prevalence is relatively low when compared with other mental health disorders, schizophrenia is recognized as one of the most disabling diseases affecting humankind. Effective communication with someone with schizophrenia relies heavily on education, compassion, and empathy.

Further Information and Support

For most of us, life can be very stressful, leading us to feel emotionally charged, which can cause anxiety, panic attacks, depression, and getting stuck in a cycle of being burdened with negative thoughts. Navigating through the challenges and emotional turmoil of life can be overwhelming, but you do not have to go through it alone. Engage Treatment is a Joint Commission Accredited professional psychological practice. We specialize in treating children, teens, and young adults struggling with depression and anxiety through community-focused treatment plans that incorporate a carefully selected combination of therapeutic interventions. Our compassionate, multidisciplinary practitioners are devoted to providing the highest quality of care that helps ignite positive change and enables clients to reach optimal health and well-being. Please do not hesitate to reach out for guidance. We are happy to answer questions and provide you with any additional information. Feel free to call us at 805-497-0605 or email us at [email protected]. You are also welcomed to get in touch by filling out our contact form. We look forward to connecting and having the opportunity to discuss how we might best be able to support you.

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