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Supporting someone with schizophrenia is a difficult, life-long effort that can be very stressful. The presence of someone with schizophrenia in the home can result in financial burden, affect the work and social life of family members or other caregivers, and be emotionally draining - particularly when the ill person has a relapse. In some cases, the emotional response of caregivers or friends to the illness and the method they use to manage the illness prove counterproductive. Attempts to control the ill person's behaviour by excessive criticism or being overprotective may result in more frequent relapses (Kavanagh 1992 a and b).
     Family members are often the most important caregivers for people with schizophrenia. The types of support they provide depend on the needs of the ill relative, the availability of mental health and community support services, and the culturally defined role of families in caring for relatives. In Western, individually-centred societies, the primary goal of family members (and the mental health care system) is to help the ill person function independently, manage his or her illness, and lead life on his or her own.
     Family members often benefit from education about the illness and its treatment and family counseling that provides emotional support and practical advice about how to manage the ill person's behaviour. Patient and family support groups can also be a good source of education for patients and families and are especially helpful in improving communication skills and teaching coping strategies. Improving the coping skills of family members can decrease the burden on the family and reduce the ill person's symptoms and disability (Birchwood and Cochrane 1990; Lam 1991; Leff et al. 1990; Rea et al. 1991; Torrey 1998; Vaughan et al. 1992).
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