Paranoid schizophrenia is one of the most devastating conditions that a person can have, and it's far more common than you might think. It affects one out of a hundred Americans, and its victims can even include children. It can be even harder to endure if the person who has it is unlucky enough to have loved ones who believe, as I used to, that this well known condition is actually demon possession.
Here are six things I tried that were not only unhelpful, they needlessly prolonged the suffering of the person involved:
- Telling the person that they are demon possessed.
- Telling them they need to get right with God.
- Telling them that taking anti-psychotic medications will hinder their relationship with God.
- Fasting and praying and telling them to fast and pray.
- Arranging for an exorcism.
- Suggesting mega-vitamin therapy or some other "natural" treatment.
Q. Why shouldn't you tell a person with schizophrenia to get right with God?
A. Because paranoid schizophrenia is not a punishment handed out by God. It's a biological condition that can happen to anyone, and its symptoms respond to treatment.
Q. My pastor says that the voices and visions and shaking limbs are demons.
A. Your minister means well, but he is misinformed. Persons with schizophrenia exhibit well-documented symptoms, and these symptoms respond to treatment. Besides, there is no medically documented evidence of demon possession.
Q. My pastor says that anti-psychotic drugs don't really work; they just make the person stoned so they won't be as bothered by the demon possession.
A. Again, he is misinformed. Newer medications are even more effective and don't make the person feel drugged. You might be surprised to know that many people with schizophrenia, once properly treated, have been able to make happy, productive lives for themselves, lives that include rewarding careers, love, friends, and family. Read Elyn Saks' memoir, The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey through Madness.Q. Shouldn't we fast and pray and arrange for an exorcism, just in case?
A. You can if you like, but anti-psychotic medications and therapy work much better, because this is a biological condition, not demon possession; besides, people have been known to suffer physical harm and even death caused by over-zealous exorcists. Read about documented instances of this in Dr. Paul A. Offit's book, Bad Faith.
Q. Anti-psychotic drugs are made from chemicals. Aren't there alternative remedies available?
A. Everything is made from chemical elements (including us). As humorist and musician Tim Minchin notes, "You know what they call alternative medicine that works? Medicine."
Here are six things you can do that will help:
- Take them to a competent medical doctor or a hospital emergency room and have them tell the doctor what they are feeling and thinking. The doctor will readily recognize this condition and can help them.
- Encourage them to take the medicine just the way the doctor prescribes it.
- Once they are stabilized, encourage them to meet with therapists. These folks can help them in a number of ways.
- Encourage them to stay connected with others, and by that I mean others who care about them and understand that they are suffering from a biological condition.
- Maintaining a close relationship with a person who suffers from schizophrenia can be difficult. Consider joining a support group yourself.
- Educate yourself about the disease. Here is an excellent place to start.And here's another: Elyn Saks's TED Talk.