People with schizophrenia are encouraged to follow some basic advice in order to manage their illness and avoid relapse. Some therapists suggest that patients keep records of their daily behavior so that they might become aware of significant behavioral changes. Major changes in behavior could be a warning sign of future relapse. Many patients learn to identify their personal warning signs and keep a record of them. If patients notice a change in their behavior, they are asked to contact their therapists as soon as possible to determine whether they need some change in treatment. With luck and good timing, treatment can be modified to help the patient feel better.
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is important for everyone, but especially so for schizophrenia patients. Medication management, taking the proper dose at the same time each day, is crucial. To help patients remember when to take their medication, some use pill boxes with each daily dose in a separate compartment. This helps them to know when they should take a dose of medication and when they need to take another.
Drugs and alcohol are particularly dangerous for people with mental illness. Caffeine and nicotine, the addictive and mind-altering substances in coffee and cigarettes, respectively, should only be used in moderation by people with schizophrenia. People with schizophrenia might be especially sensitive to the effects of these substances. Getting an appropriate amount of sleep can be helpful in preventing relapse.
Research suggests that sleep can affect mood. When patients are getting too much sleep, it could be a sign of depression. Too little sleep may signify anxiety or mania. To this end, patients are encouraged to structure their day and record their activities. They might rise at the same time each morning and follow a daily routine, ending their day at the same time every night. When a patient follows a routine, it is easier to monitor behavior changes. This way, patients can recognize when they are sleeping more or less than usual.
Avoiding stress in general is a good rule of thumb for schizophrenia patients. Measures one can take to avoid stress include surrounding oneself with supportive people, avoiding overstimulating movies or TV programs, and following a simple routine. New experiences, although exciting for most, can be especially stressful for people with schizophrenia.
When schizophrenia patients take their medication, maintain a healthy lifestyle, keep a routine, monitor stress, and check in with their treatment team regularly, they are more likely to successfully manage their illness.
Heather Barnett Veague, Ph.D.
Heather Barnett Veague attended the University of California, Los Angeles, and received her Ph.D. in psychology from Harvard University in 2004. She is the author of several journal articles investigating information processing and the self in borderline personality disorder. Currently, she is the Director of Clinical Research for the Laboratory of Adolescent Sciences at Vassar College. Dr. Veague lives in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, with her husband and children.