Treatments for schizophrenia increase the likelihood of living a full life – especially when taken as prescribed. However, the treatments are not a cure and therefore there is always a potential that someone living with schizophrenia may experience a relapse, where the psychotic symptoms of schizophrenia start to appear again. A relapse can be caused by many things such as stress or other illness, but the most frequent cause of relapse is not taking medication as prescribed.
The impact of relapse on both the person living with schizophrenia and their support network can be considerable. By being prepared you will be better able to offer the person experiencing the relapse the help and support they need. By acting early and getting professional help you may also help prevent it from getting worse.
Relapse can have an impact on the lives of people who live with, or care for, someone living with schizophrenia. You may need to take time off work to look after them or take them to appointments with their mental health team. Their behaviour may seem strange as they experience psychotic symptoms. The person experiencing the relapse may not understand what is happening to them and deny that they are unwell. All of these things, and more, can put stress on your relationship with them and make it harder to support them. An important thing that you can do to help prepare for the possibility of a relapse, is to prepare a relapse plan.
As part of the person with schizophrenia’s support network it is important that you have a plan for what to do if a relapse occurs. By being prepared you can help to minimise the impact on both your life and the life of the person who is experiencing the relapse. Preparing a relapse plan is something you can do together when they are well.
Your relapse plan should include the following:
Everyone who is living with schizophrenia will have a different experience with their schizophrenia so knowing how to spot the signs of a relapse is not always straightforward. Warning signs of a possible relapse include:
The most important part of any relapse plan is knowing how to get professional help quickly. For many people this could be their mental health team or their local doctor. If help is needed urgently encourage the person to visit their local hospital’s emergency department and ask to see the duty psychiatrist. As with any other medical emergency, if someone is in imminent danger telephone for an ambulance.
Many people have certain things that help them feel safe and secure; this could be listening to music, watching a film, reading or just being at home in calm and familiar surroundings. Whatever the particular ‘thing’ is, helping the person affected by relapse feel safe until professional help arrives may well help them keep relaxed and calm in what is likely to be a frightening experience for them as well as you.