How should I respond to my Schizophrenic friend's posts on Facebook?
May 31, 2014 10:58 PM   Subscribe

I have a friend who has Schizophrenia. He has indicated that he has been seeing professionals and taking medicine. He has starting posting his theories about aliens on Facebook. I'm uncertain how to respond to this. Is it worthwhile trying to rebut this with an analysis of the facts or should I just ignore them? I have heard that sometimes arguing against something only makes people believe them more.
posted by casebash to Society & Culture (23 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Do you want to hear about how your friend secretly communicates with aliens? Because that's the likely dialogue that happens when you introduce facts, evidence, and logic in this situation.

My dad is schizophrenic. He thinks he has a one on one relationship with the holy ghost and god. I've found that it's best to not agitate him when he's otherwise med compliant and functioning okay. I will listen...but remain non-commital otherwise.
posted by fluffy battle kitten at 11:15 PM on May 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

There is no way to reason a person out of delusions - the definition of a delusion is that it is a fixed false belief. I suggest just ignoring the posts.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 11:15 PM on May 31, 2014 [11 favorites]

Seconding treehorn+buddy, you can't reason with unreasonable people, the kindest thing is just to ignore.
posted by Middlemarch at 11:17 PM on May 31, 2014 [2 favorites]

Your friend needs his aliens. Don't try and take them away.
posted by Obscure Reference at 11:35 PM on May 31, 2014 [3 favorites]

I would say ignore them. What you could do is can support him in seeking treatment in a kind way if the opportunity to do so arises. You could also be understanding of the fact that he is ill, and that some of his behaviors and beliefs are not a reflection of who he is or what he thinks. He may not be able to choose all of his choices right now. Because these are delusions, which are a medical symptom, reasonableness on your part won't fix them or make them go away.

One of the crappiest parts about mental illnesses is that sometimes the illness itself can prevent you from getting better. I say this to point out that there will likely be times when he is more and less healthy and it sounds like this isn't one of his most healthy times.

One of the other crappiest parts about mental illnesses is that during your more healthy times you have to cope with the effects of what you did or didn't do during your less healthy times. Ignoring these posts rather than responding to them might make it easier for him to cope with any embarrassment or other negative consequences that happen later.
posted by Verba Volant at 11:49 PM on May 31, 2014 [7 favorites]

Responding to them in a way of reasoning is not a good idea; as previously stated, one cannot reason their way out of mental illness. It's much the same thought as telling somebody with depression to "just cheer up"; good intentions, but fundamentally unhelpful.

I would watch these statuses for anything that looks like he might be endangering himself somehow, and possibly post sympathetic but fairly non-relating material (more that you hope he's well, that kind of thing) for his more lucid moments. But I wouldn't try and debate it.
posted by solarion at 1:07 AM on June 1, 2014

You can't reason someone out of a position they didn't reason themselves into in the first place.

There are many, many non-schizophrenic people who have theories about aliens. Some of them even get their own TV shows on the History Channel. I have friends on Facebook who support the Duck Dynasty guy. I have friends who follow crazy diets and then can't understand why they aren't working. I have friends who think they'll be the next Steve Wozniak. 99% of the time I just scroll on by.

If he's going to therapy and taking his medication then just let it go. It's really small potatoes as long as he isn't letting these theories ruin his life. Aliens built the pyramids? Ignore. Going to join a cult that thinks a ship is hiding behind Haleā€“Bopp? Contact his relatives.

If it helps, sometimes what I do is type up a response, read it a couple times, then delete it. You'd be surprised at how good that feels.
posted by sbutler at 1:12 AM on June 1, 2014 [6 favorites]

My ex nephew-in-law suffers and has for a while to the extent he was hospitalized for a month and doesn't remember it. The wife and the nephew and I lived together for a couple of years.
The nephew and I are still friends on facebook five years later though I'm now divorced from his aunt. His particulars are chemtrails and any church. To this day we talk on facebook about music and fishing and hockey and other common ground things - without any real tension.

The difficulty we had was not so much disagreeing as coming to the conclusion that neither of us was going to convince the other. Once that happened it was all good.

Debating people who are suffering disorders that make them paranoid seems to exacerbate the paranoia. I tried to dissuade him and it only resulted in a distancing.

So to answer your question, "Is it worthwhile trying to rebut this with an analysis of the facts or should I just ignore them?" my answer would be that it's worthwhile to not worry about it and focus on the positive aspects of your friendship. Be a friend.
posted by vapidave at 1:57 AM on June 1, 2014 [6 favorites]

Medications aren't a glass slipper. As Treehorn+bunny suggests, just ignore it.
posted by Pudhoho at 3:00 AM on June 1, 2014

Ignore it. If you could reason people out of delusions, the world would be a very different place.
posted by Sticherbeast at 3:23 AM on June 1, 2014

Is it worthwhile trying to rebut this with an analysis of the facts or should I just ignore them?

What facts? Whose facts? I know many people who believe in extra terrestrial life - to varying degrees of course. The internet is filled with sites that support this subculture. Even Neil deGrasse Tyson has alien theories. Honestly, the same could be said for people who believe in God - what are those facts? Unless he is giving his savings away to a scammy group, or engaging in some other dangerous behavior, leave him be and let him believe what he wants.
posted by NoraCharles at 5:06 AM on June 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

You seem misinformed.

Plenty of educated and sane people pursue this topic.

I think you ignore it the way you ignore anything else you don't want to engage with on Facebook.

Your friend's interest in aliens is not necessarily caused by suffering from Schizophrenia, although the way he interacts with the topic may be influenced by his mental state.

You are confusing two things that are not related.
posted by jbenben at 5:13 AM on June 1, 2014 [4 favorites]

There is a difference in believing that alien life may exist somewhere in the universe and believing that aliens are mutilating cattle in the Midwest and probing people. What does your friend believe? If it is the second, ignore.

My personal experience is that it can be draining to engage with someone who has devoted so much energy to any particular topic in which they have a passionate interest.
posted by Rob Rockets at 5:22 AM on June 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

Watch his friends responses. If there is anyone who eggs him on or seems to agree with him, then putting up a link debuting it or, openly telling the 'friend' that they are being an ass is perfectly okay.

I have a few extreme friends whose friends all share their views. When they start going off on a crazy tangent, I do step in with a fact. They all hate me me for it but I can't stand to see lie upon lie and not say anything. I am polite and I do not engage. I leave the conversation after it gets too heated.

My point is, don't allow him to believe that his reality is your reality as well. He may be angry with you but, if you handle things in a respectable way and pull back when he gets too hot, you may be able to be the voice of reason. Just don't be the voice of reason on every single one of his posts.
posted by myselfasme at 5:59 AM on June 1, 2014

I have on a social networking list a kid I was in the hospital with last year. I'm not sure of all his diagnoses, but something on the schizophreniform spectrum is definitely in there; he has some pretty severe delusions.

Mostly I use the site to keep tabs on him. When he's med-compliant, sometimes we interact. But it's really easy to tell when he's gone off his meds (which is frequent; his delusions are really quite happy delusions and he likes having them, until he suddenly decompensates), and at that point I step back. His reality isn't congruent with ours. He's not in the hospital anymore, but we had a psychiatrist in common when we were there, and I've called her once or twice over the past year expressing concern about how severe his delusions were getting. Obviously she couldn't tell me anything about him in return, but I know her, I know the staff there, and I am quite certain they reach out and help him get back on an even keel (I've seen his interactions return to normal after such a phone call).

Schizophrenia is a really difficult thing to treat. You don't know if his alien talk is delusion, or Sagan-level thinking. But it's best not to take the chance: unless you're a professional and know what you're doing, even discussing someone's delusions can reinforce them.

Be supportive of your friend. He disclosed his illness to you, which is a big hint that he trusts you. Ask him what support he needs from you to help himself feel healthy, continue seeing his therapeutic team, and remain med-compliant.

I have a few extreme friends whose friends all share their views. When they start going off on a crazy tangent, I do step in with a fact. They all hate me me for it but I can't stand to see lie upon lie and not say anything.

Holding strange/fringe/offensive views and/or lying and having schizophrenia are really different things. Facts don't necessarily help people with schizophrenia (except, again, when wielded in the hands of a professional, and often not even then)--in fact, if his form of the illness tends towards paranoia, that can make things even worse.

tldr Support your friend, ask him what he needs, don't engage in (what may be) his delusions.

Also, kudos to you for asking how to deal with the situation. Mental illness is a Big Scary Thing to a lot of people, and there's a hell of a lot of stigma, especially around schizophrenia.

Obviously if his talk starts getting into 'could harm self or others' territory, call your local mental health crisis line and ask them what to do.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 7:31 AM on June 1, 2014 [7 favorites]

Ignore it, just totally ignore.

Look, 'rebutting' him with the facts as you see them won't convince him, just like its unlikely to convince anyone who is absolutely positive they know what is right. This holds true whether it's about aliens or the lyrics to 'Louie Louie' or what's the best beer: as one of my favorite authors once put it, a person convinced against their will really isn't convinced at all. (And besides, who are you to say there positively are not any aliens out there: have you been there and checked? It's a big universe, after all!)

My mother had several transient ischemic events in her last year; she was 100% positive there were people she held conversations with living on her back patio..... telling her she was imagining things just upset her; accepting that she was telling the truth as she saw it kept things calm. It made no difference in the end which viewpoint was "right": sometimes, love and friendship mean keeping your mouth shut.
posted by easily confused at 7:43 AM on June 1, 2014 [4 favorites]

i would maintain a sort of puckish inscrutability. maybe aliens exist, maybe they don't, i don't have enough information to conclude decisively. i remain open to legitimate, valid evidence either way.
posted by bruce at 8:00 AM on June 1, 2014


If you are an exceptionally empathetic person (that is, multiple people in multiple areas of your life have told you that you are a good listener and that you really seem to understand them emotionally), you might try responding to any in-person or private-message delusional-sounding statements that express negative underlying emotions with something like, "That sounds like it's really stressful for you. Is that something you can talk to your doctor about?" (focusing on the distress as the part the doctor may be able to help with, not the delusion).

I would not post that for all to see as a response to a Facebook post, and I would not not not respond that way to a delusional statement that seemed neutral-to-happy in terms of emotional content.
posted by jaguar at 8:17 AM on June 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

My closest friend has schizophrenia and is on medication and doing better than ever. She occasionally tells me she thinks she is the devil or that people are causing her brain to hurt with their energy. It upsets her greatly. It is more upsetting to her if anyone dismisses it or tries to refute with "logic".

I found that acknowledging that it is upsetting her and just listening is all that she needs. If it is distressing your friend that's the tact I would take. Otherwise either ignore it or make polite responses like you do if some stranger is expressing an opinion that you disagree with at a party and you don't want to be rude.

I understand how distressing sometimes it is to hear this when you have no real experience with it. Good on you for caring.
posted by kanata at 8:43 AM on June 1, 2014 [3 favorites]

Millionthed don't argue with him. The last thing he needs right now is to feel even more isolated from people, and if everyone is constantly hectoring him and arguing with him about something he knows to be true, he's only going to withdraw and feel more alone than he probably already does.

I only have a little personal experience with people who have schizophrenia, but I have had enough experience with people with other delusional conditions that I have a game plan.

First, if and only if this is true, let them know you're there for them. Give them an ear to talk about how they're feeling and how they're doing in a general sense. If possible, if you share other interests, you can maybe help distract them for a while. Don't tell them you'll do something if you won't really do it, though. If you make yourself available for late night phone calls, don't get pissy if they wake you up. If you do over-promise and then reject them when they ask for something, it can cause people (delusional or no) to further withdraw and isolate themselves. That's not good for anyone, but it's especially not good for someone who is having an acute episode.

Know, too, that someone who is actively delusional might say some mean things to you and lash out a little bit. So up your tolerance level for mild verbal abuse. He might get annoyed with you and call you stupid or tedious. Don't put up with that when he's OK or anything, and definitely don't tolerate threats or any type of physical abuse--and absolutely do alert authorities if that happens--but be prepared to have him call you a nag if you nag him.

Identify that person's concrete risks as well as you can. What is he likely to do that may cause him real world harm? Stop taking his meds? Stop eating or sleeping? Go on midnight adventures in the woods? Conduct risky mad scientist experiments in his studio apartment? Intervene to ensure their physical safety when you can. So, talking about aliens = don't intervene. Planning to do something about aliens = intervene. Most people even with serious delusional disorders are not dangerous. Merely thinking something that's not true is not going to hurt him.

Remember: This person is not just a collection of delusions. He is not just "a schizophrenic." He's still the human being you know and possibly love, and the schizophrenia is just a small part of who he is, even when it gets really big. Do not dismiss him completely as a person, and remember that not everything he says and does is delusional. Some people seem to get unnecessarily contrary with people with mental illnesses, as though everything they say is absurd and wrong. It's not.

Don't get into it if you're not comfortable doing so, and/or if you aren't committed to being there for him, but if you do choose to, the main thing you want to do is just maintain some human connection, and if necessary, to maybe give his therapist or authorities a heads up if there's some indication of real physical danger.
posted by ernielundquist at 10:22 AM on June 1, 2014 [4 favorites]

All of the above said, there's a big difference between arguing with somebody because you think they're wrong and offering your honest opinion if asked for it.

The single most useful thing anybody said to me during my own psychotic break came from a really good friend who reminded me that the purpose of language was to communicate ideas with other people and that using words in ways understood by both parties was a necessary precondition for that - which undermined a whole slab of "reasoning" I'd been happily working within for weeks. So I know from direct inner experience that sometimes it is possible to reason a psychotic person out of what must appear from the outside to be a completely untenable position.

But had he not already been one of my most trusted friends, and had he offered that thought without my having directly sought his advice, I doubt it would have done me any good whatsoever.
posted by flabdablet at 2:41 PM on June 1, 2014 [3 favorites]

It is possible to validate a person's experience without agreeing with it. I think ignoring people we deem crazy promotes their suffering, as well as our own. Something like "it sounds like you are really interested in the subject of alien invasion" and "It sounds like you're thinking aliens are responsible for ... -- I'd be worried too if I had that experience."

Stuff like that.
posted by macinchik at 10:20 PM on June 1, 2014

Talking to someone about something they want to talk about isn't going to make them talk about it less. Don't comment on their facebook postings.
posted by rebent at 8:11 AM on June 5, 2014

« Older How do I come off as smarter?   |   What kind of painting/mixed media support am I... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.