I have a friend (girl),18, who has suffered from schizophrenia for about 2 years. I have read about her illness and I know what she is facing. The one thing that bothers me is that she occasionally phones me to tell me that she is feeling VERY SUICIDAL. She has tried once but was unsuccessful. She is also frequently depressed.
How can I help her through this? What must I do so that I can prevent her from committing suicide?
Indeed Schizophrenia is a complex and difficult disorder. Often people who are afflicted with Schizophrenia feel depressed and suicidal. It is very important for the person with Schizophrenia to see their Psychiatrist regularly to have their medications monitored. If your friend is not taking anti-psychotic medication it would be most helpful for them if you suggested it. The right medication and the right dosage are highly individualistic. Often this requires several trial-and-error steps until the right combination is found for that individual. In other words, one's body chemistry is both universal and unique -- like one's fingerprints. This trial-and-error process can be very frustrating to the person suffering from Schizophrenia. Additionally, most people in your friend's situation are taking several types of medication.
Encourage her to speak with her psychiatrist about the possibility of an additional anti-depressant medication. Needing to take multiple medications can also be frustrating and demoralizing for the person. However, one needs to keep in mind that taking multiple medications is far better than the alternative -- psychosis and/or suicide. Being a supportive and understanding friend, one who realizes the importance of your friend's medication needs, can be a huge benefit to your friend. Often people suffering from a mental illness will only sporadically take their medication and/or stop taking it when they start to feel better. Unfortunately, this is not how "psychotropic" medications work. One needs to take them everyday in order for them to be effective. Thus, please encourage your friend not to fall into this pattern. In fact, inconsistency with taking one's medication in these cases is the #1 reason for hospitalization or re- hospitalization.
As far as the suicidal ideation goes -- ALWAYS take her to be serious. It is unwise to let her be alone during these times. Even for a few minutes. Should you feel that she is in imminent danger, by all means call the Emergency Services Agency in your area. It is far better to do something than nothing if someone's life is at stake. She may not understand your decision, but she will at least be alive!
I would also suggest that you encourage her to discuss these feelings with a therapist (i.e., psychologist, professional counselor, clinical social worker). This will provide her with a safe place to talk about her feelings and help her learn to cope with the Schizophrenia. Mental Health treatments tend to work best with a combination of appropriate medication/dosage and psychotherapy. Helping your friend to get the best treatment possible, and being honest about your own feelings about her illness with her, are the best things you can do as a friend.
I hope this helps you out. Best of luck with your challenge - I am sure it is worth the effort.
Rocky C. Underwood, M.S., M.A., LCPC
This question was answered by Rocky C. Underwood, M.S., M.A., LCPC. He is a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor, Montana.