walking to get breakfast this morning, i finally had an opportunity to have a conversation with Rob!n!
Rob!n? is a homeless person who sleeps in our beautiful North County sometimes. He also shared he was adopted, his old name was “jeff” and for a time this morning, it truly didn’t matter what Rob!n’s name is because he was a Bird of a friend.
though we’ve haven’t talked much, Rob!n and i have shared a connection many times before. just between You and me? often i share my food with Rob!n and check in on him to confirm he is feeling comfortable when he bunks in the doorway of a neighborhood shop.
today, in our first substantial conversation, Rob!n shared that he needs medication (me too!) and i also learned he could use a pair of size 11 shoes. without a job myself, this is no matter today, i still have a home and a bit o’ honey. more than enough to buy Rob!n a pair of shoes and help with meds.
Rob!n? also shared that all his bank accounts have been unified and that he is in contact with the secret service. Not sure what that all means, but if you know Rob!n? that was a great story that made me smile to hear.
As we walked away, we hugged, he kissed me lightly on the cheek, then we made plans to meet again later today to say hello and exchange ideas. Have you met a Rob!n lately? You might consider it, they are blessings in disguise.
? The More You Know…
How to Help a Rob!n…
It’s common in our culture to operate under the assumption that most people without homes suffer from schizophrenia, addiction, or have otherwise created their own problems.
However, statistics from the National Coalition for the Homeless confirm that only about 16 percent of the homeless community suffers from addiction. The major contributing factors to homelessness include:
- home loss,
- systemic poverty,
- lack of affordable housing,
- and a decline in public assistance programs.
Additional factors might also include violence,
mental illness or a lack of affordable Health/Care. If you know someone who is homeless, there is still hope, and you can help her or him get back on her feet by:
- Peace-ing the streets
- Sing/talk about the violence [verbal, physical, etc]
- meditate @ home + @ work
- Stand together
- Coming from a place of non-judgment
- Finding out what he and/or she needs to feel better
- Vocational training
- Crisis assistance programs (if wanted)
National Coalition for the Homeless: Why Are People Homeless?
National Coalition for the Homeless: If You’re Homeless Or Need Help
National Community Action Partnership
Take time to listen/talk to the homeless. Illness is not a reason to stop talking to humans with any illness.
Recognize symptoms of schizophrenia. Some signs are more noticeable than others, but by getting a sense of even the symptoms you don’t observe, you will have a better sense of what the person you are talking to may be going through. Signs of schizophrenia can include:
- Unfounded expressions of suspicion.
- Unusual or strange fears, such as saying someone wants to harm him/her.
- Evidence of hallucinations, or changes in sensory experiences; for example: seeing, tasting, smelling, hearing, or feeling things that others at the same time and place, in that same situation, don’t experience.
- Disorganized writing or speech. Mismatching facts that don’t relate to one another. Conclusions that don’t follow the facts.
- “Negative” symptoms (i.e., reductions of typical behavior or mental functioning) such as a lack of emotion (sometimes called anhedonia), no eye contact, no facial expressions, neglect of hygiene, or social withdrawal.
- Unusual adornment, such as offbeat clothing, worn in a crooked, or otherwise inappropriate manner (one sleeve or pant leg rolled up for no apparent reason, mismatched colors, etc.).
- Disorganized or abnormal motor behavior, such as putting one’s body into weird postures, or engaging in pointless excessive/repeated movements such as buttoning/zipping up and down one’s jacket.
Compare symptoms with schizoid personality disorder. Schizoid personality disorder is part of the schizophrenic spectrum of disorders — both disorders are characterized by difficulty in expressing emotion or making social connections; however, there are some notable differences. The person with schizoid personality disorder is in touch with reality and does not experience hallucinations or continual paranoia, and their conversational speech patterns are normal and easy to follow. A person with schizoid personality disorder develops and displays a preference for solitude, has little or no sexual desire, and may be confused by normal social cues and interactions.
- Though part of the schizophrenia spectrum, this is not schizophrenia, so the methods of relating described here for the person with schizophrenia won’t apply to the individual with schizoid personality disorder.
Do not assume you are dealing with a person with schizophrenia. Even if the person displays symptoms of schizophrenia, don’t automatically assume schizophrenia. You definitely don’t want to get it wrong by deciding the individual has or does not have schizophrenia.
- If you are unsure, try to ask friends and family of the individual in question.
- Do so tactfully, by saying something like “I want to make sure I don’t say the wrong thing or do something wrong, so I wanted to ask: does X have a mental disorder, perhaps schizophrenia? So sorry if I’m wrong, it’s just that I see some of the symptoms and still wish to treat him/her respectfully.”
Take an empathic perspective. Once you have learned about the symptoms of schizophrenia, do your best to step into the shoes of the individual suffering from this debilitating disorder. Taking the person’s perspective, by empathy or cognitive empathy, is a key factor in successful relationships because it helps one to be less judgmental, more patient, and allows a better sense of the other person’s needs.
- Although it may be difficult to imagine some of the symptoms of schizophrenia, you can still imagine what it is like to be out of control of your own mind and possibly to not be aware of this loss of control or to not fully grasp the real situation.
Speak to the individual the way you would to anyone else, making allowances for anything unusual that is said. Remember that s/he may hear noises or voices in the background while you are talking, making it difficult to understand you. It is therefore essential that you talk clearly, calmly, and rather quietly, as his nerves may be frazzled from hearing voices.
- These voices may be criticizing him as you talk
Be aware of delusions. Delusions occur in as many as four out of five people with schizophrenia, so be aware that the person may experience these while you are talking. These may be delusions that you or some outside entity such as the CIA or a neighbor is controlling his/her mind, or viewing you as an angel of the Lord, or anything else, really.
- Get a sense of the specific delusions so you know what information to filter through in the conversation.
- Keep possible grandiosity in mind. Remember that you are talking to someone who may think as if a famous person, authority or ascended beyond the realm of ordinary logic.
- Try to be as agreeable as possible while talking. Don’t be overly flowery or flattering with many compliments, though.
Never speak as if the person isn’t there. Don’t exclude him/her, even if there is an ongoing delusion or hallucination. Typically there will still be a sense of what is going on; that includes being hurt by your talking as though the person is not around.
- If you need to talk to someone else about him/her, say it in a way that one wouldn’t mind hearing, or take a moment to speak in private.
Check with other people who know this person. You may learn a lot about how best to talk to this particular person by asking the friends and family or (if applicable) care-taker. There are a number of questions you might want to ask these people, such as:
- Is there a history of hostility?
- Has there ever been an arrest?
- Are there any delusions or hallucinations in particular that I should be aware of?
- Are there any specific ways I should react to any situations you think I might find myself in with this person?
Have a back-up plan. Know how you will leave the room, if the conversation goes badly or if you feel that your safety is threatened.
- Do your best to think ahead of time about how you’ll calmly reassure and gently talk the person out of anger or paranoia. Maybe there is something you can do to make the person feel at ease. If, for instance, he/she feels the government is spying on him/her, offer to cover the windows with aluminum foil to be safe and protected from any scanning/spying devices.
Be prepared to accept unusual things. Keep an even keel and don’t react. A person with schizophrenia will likely behave and speak differently than someone without the disorder. Don’t laugh at, mock or make fun of any faulty reasoning or logic. If you feel reasonably threatened or in imminent harm, as if threats might be carried out, call the police, but stay there as interactions with the police have too frequently resulted in the death of the patient at the hands of the police.
- If you imagine what it must be like to live with such a problematic disorder, you will realize the gravity of the situation and that such problems are nothing to mock.
Encourage continued use of medication. It is common for individuals who suffer from schizophrenia to want to get off of medications. However, it is very important that medication use continue. If there are mentions of coming off his medication in conversation you can:
- Suggest to check in with the doctor first before making such a serious decision.
- Remind that if one feels better now, it may be because of medication use, but that continuing to feel better may require continued use of those medications.
Avoid feeding their delusions about “you”. If s/he becomes paranoid and mentions that you are plotting against him/her, avoid making too much bold eye contact, as this might increase the paranoia.