I have a friend who I've known for over forty years. Early on in our friendship, my friend was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and has been on medication and psychiatric care ever since. There are occasional psychotic episodes that result in them being sectioned. We "talk" (it's mostly written messages) more than we used to, because of the growth of social media.
The problem I have is that I'm lost when it comes to replying to many of my friend's messages. They are often extensive descriptions of delusions, conspiracy theories, the health problems caused by decades of taking psychotropic medication and dreadful descriptions of the physical and mental distress my friend constantly feels. I think they are asking for sympathy and support, pouring our their distress to anyone who will listen, but I don't know how to respond. I can't fix anything for them, and after all this time, neither can anyone else.
I am as supportive as I can be. I express sympathy but I tend not to ask too many questions because they end up going down a rabbit hole of paranoid delusions. I rarely try to correct their delusions because I know from experience it won't work. I can't bring myself to agree with them when they are asking for validation of their paranoia, I either ignore it or try to change the subject. I'm worried that this will affect our relationship and eventually turn me into "one of them" on the other side of the divide, or severely weaken our friendship.
My question is: are there any proven techniques or strategies that are used to talk to people with these sorts of conditions?
I'm not trying to fix anything or find a cure, I'm not looking for a magic bullet, it's all about keeping our relationship going through difficult conversations.