Please note: This information was current at the time of publication. But medical information is always changing, and some information given here may be out of date. For regularly updated information on a variety of health topics, please visit, the AAFP patient education website.

Information from Your Family Doctor

Helping a Family Member with Schizophrenia


Am Fam Physician. 2007 Jun 15;75(12):1830.

  See related article on schizophrenia.

What is schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia (skitz-o-FREN-ee-ah) is a mental illness. People with this disease may:

  • Hear voices that others don't hear

  • Think that other people can control their thoughts

  • Think that people are “out to get them”

  • Have trouble making plans, speaking, expressing feelings, or feeling happy

  • Have trouble making decisions, paying attention, and remembering

These symptoms can make it hard to talk with other people. People with schizophrenia often avoid their friends and family.

Who gets schizophrenia?

About 1 in 100 men and women get it. Men begin to show signs in their late teens or early 20s. Women usually start to show signs when they are in their late 20s or early 30s. People 45 years or older rarely get it.

How do I know if someone in my family has schizophrenia?

The first signs often include avoiding family and friends, changes in school or job performance, changes in sleep habits, and being irritable.

What should I do if I think someone in my family has schizophrenia?

Call your family doctor and describe the symptoms. Your doctor will work with you to get help for your family member. People with this disease may refuse to get help. If you are afraid that your family member might hurt himself or herself or someone else, you should call 9-1-1 to have an ambulance or the police take the person to the hospital for help.

What kinds of treatment can help?

People with schizophrenia do better when they take medicine. Community programs can help them live on their own or keep a job. People who are very ill may need to stay in a hospital until their symptoms are under control.

Where can I get more information?

American Academy of Family Physicians

Web site:

National Alliance on Mental Illness

Web site:

This handout is provided to you by your family doctor and the American Academy of Family Physicians. Other health-related information is available from the AAFP online at

This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.


Copyright © 2007 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.
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