Schizophrenia and Relationships

The Benefits of Supportive Relationships

If you have schizophrenia, it may seem hard to hone your social skills and build long-lasting relationships. But with effort and proper treatment, it can be done.

One way to build those skills is to join a support group where you can meet people who understand and help with what you’re going through.

Nora Baylerian, 56, a group leader for Schizophrenics Anonymous (SA) in Royal Oak, MI, says treating schizophrenia is no different from how you would treat any illness. “It’s a disease. Just like diabetics need their insulin, we need our psychiatric treatment.” But she says SA group meetings went beyond that, helping her make good connections and leading her self-esteem to “skyrocket.”

Sometimes, putting yourself out there can really pay off. When John Dunn, 54, went back to college after a few psychotic episodes, he decided to go to a psychological rehabilitation center to make friends and get support through the difficult process. Dunn says he had avoided romantic relationships up to that point. But there, he met the woman who would become his wife.

“She asked me out on my first date. That’s why I eventually married her: because she was one of the first girls to show an interest in me,” says Dunn, a Michigan native and aspiring writer who was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder at 26.

“I found a deep love with her as the years went on. It wasn’t really a romantic situation. We just got to be real good friends. … She’s supported me when I’ve been ill, and I’ve supported her when she’s been ill.” They’ve now been together for more than 11 years.

Support doesn’t always have to come from family, friends, or romantic partners. Claghorn credits her ability to live alone and manage her symptoms to her trained psychiatric service dog, a chihuahua called Millie.

“She lets me know when I’m hallucinating. If she’s barking when I hear people talking, then I know it’s real. If she’s not barking and I hear people talking, then I know it’s a hallucination. Then, I need to talk to my treatment team,” Claghorn says.

Before getting a service dog, Claghorn required psychiatric treatment every 6 months or so. But in the 13 years she’s had Millie, she’s had only one episode.

Besides offering a reality check, Claghorn says, Millie has “wormed her way into her heart” and has given her a “sense of purpose.”

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