I have mental illness that includes schizophrenia, which has seven major symptoms: hallucinations, obsessing, memory loss, paranoia, apathy, delusions, and depression.
Hallucinations come in various forms. They are auditory, visual and olfactory. Some people literally hear voices which may tell them to do things they otherwise would never do. Sometimes they will use loud music to drown them out. Visual hallucinations can include ghosts or other images. Olfactory hallucinations involve weird smells and odors. People can experience more than one of these at a time.
Obsessing means ruminating over and over on a single thought. This ruminating can be focused on an event that actually happened, or on a growing story of thoughts. If the person is obsessing on the past, the story may take on fictional proportions that seem true to him or her. These stories can make the person angry, or the cluster of thoughts may just be internalized.
Memory loss can take on two forms, long- and short-term. Often short-term memory loss is complicated by the obsessing symptom of schizophrenia, but usually it involves chemical problems.
Everyone experiences some paranoia, but the person with schizophrenia has a life filled with paranoia. Because perceptions are so real, the person with schizophrenia can become angry very easily, or else internalize all these thoughts. But in another sense, the person is very perceptive. This may seem like a paradox, but it is not. Often the person with paranoia becomes introspective, plagued with perceived personal inconsistencies, and then with inconsistencies in others. These inconsistencies are so introverted in the person that the average person would not even notice the fault. The inconsistencies and introversion can lead to anger, hate, low self-esteem, or all three.
Apathy often arises out of anxiety and nervousness. People with schizophrenia become so nervous that they would rather do nothing than take on regular chores. Yet, they want to have a normal life. They are not lazy. They are so consumed with thought that they can not concentrate on their work. Some medications can make them tired and restless.
A delusion is a persistent thought such as the conviction that the world will end if I don't yell at the top of my voice. These thoughts are so real and yet so debilitating, that it is hard for the average person to imagine having them.
Depression involves poor motivation and constant gloom. People may have high aptitudes and yet be depressed. They feel that life is not worth living. Nothing is exciting, and they do not know why. Often they will go to bed with a midnight cry.
What can the church do to relate to people with schizophrenia? I have come up with a list of eight things.
1. Do not be phony.
2. Always say “hi” and greet them even if they do not respond
3. Be patient; the person may never get better.
4. Pray for people with mental illness.
5. Do not blame them or their family for their illness.
6. Encourage some involvement in the church. If they are not involved, they may feel people do not let them do anything, and they will just withdraw.
7. Be sensitive.
8. Remember that God is sovereign and merciful. So do not be judgmental. Many of your opinions may be wrong.
One more point. Many people with schizophrenia smoke. It can help them relax. Encourage them to stop, but understand that it will be very hard for them to quit. Alcohol can also become an escape. Presently, there are many facilities that work with mentally ill people who have these dual difficulties. Support the center as it helps people. It may take time.
God has a purpose for people with schizophrenia. Will you let them into your world?