This is a time of great hope for people living with schizophrenia. The outlook has improved greatly over the last 25 years. Although your illness cannot be cured, it can usually be controlled with proper treatment. The majority of people with schizophrenia (80 %) can go on to lead normal, productive lives, that is-get married, have a family and find a job- IF they stay on their medication as prescribed by their doctor.
Schizophrenia varies in severity from person to person. You may only experience one psychotic episode or you may have many episodes over your lifetime, with normal functioning in between episodes. Or you may be one of the people who experience a slow decline in functioning over time with little improvement between psychotic episodes. Your symptoms will worsen and then improve in cycles known as relapses (positive symptoms are present) and remissions (positive symptoms are absent or minimal). The outcome in schizophrenia varies greatly.
- About 30 percent of individuals are independent, working full time, and raising families.
- About 50 percent of individuals can live relatively independent lives, with varying levels of support, but require continuing medication.
- About 20 percent of individuals will remain highly dependent on caregivers and will require long-term, structured care, sometimes in secure environments.
People with schizophrenia often have the best outcomes when they are diagnosed and treated as early as possible. If you maintain your treatment with medications and psychosocial treatment, you can sometimes recover from the illness (about 30% of people). On the other hand, it may be difficult for you to live completely independently with schizophrenia. Sometimes you need help from a mental health professional and other support systems in order to live by yourself and maintain a career. Adhering to treatment, avoiding drug use, getting enough sleep, and keeping your stress level low can help you avoid crises. Family members and friends can assist you in recovery by supporting you and seeking professional assistance if a relapse occurs.
Early symptoms of a relapse may include feeling more irritable or agitated, increased memory problems, inability to sleep or concentrate, and a loss of interest in school, work, or friends.
As the illness progresses, you may again experience symptoms that include hallucinations, delusions, disordered thinking, lack of emotional expression, and inappropriate reactions.
Your schizophrenia may be treated with a wide variety of medications that include antipsychotic drugs, and possibly electroconvulsive therapy, psychotherapy, family support services, and/or rehabilitation programs.
With treatment, rehabilitation therapy, and lots of social support and understanding, many schizophrenia patients can recover to the point where their symptoms are more or less completely controlled. Many are living independently, have families and jobs, and lead happy lives. One individual had the following to say about living with schizophrenia:
“Those early years when you are first diagnosed are very hard. Many people are very surprised by the illness and don’t know what to do. Many refuse medicines. But as time goes on, most people learn what works. They find their best medication. They find a way to live that is satisfying and doesn’t stress them too much. They learn not to drink too much alcohol, and to take care of themselves. They find a good doctor, and often others help them, such as friends, priest, or counselor. People make a decent life for themselves. They find love, they find work….it gets better. The key is to stick with the medication, and to never give up.”
(Excerpt from schizophrenia.com)
However, it is important to note that even with continued treatment, some people who have recovered will suffer relapses. Relapse rates are considerably higher if you stop taking your medication or you take it irregularly. Continued use of your medication will reduce both the intensity and the frequency of relapses. Substance abuse interferes with the effectiveness of your medication and is also a leading factor for why people discontinue their medications.
Research has made great advances in both understanding and treating schizophrenia but there is still much that isn’t known. We still don’t know why some patients deteriorate more rapidly than others, why some don’t respond as well to medication, or why some make good recoveries while others don’t. It’s important for you to realize that while there are many things that you and your family can do to help your outlook, schizophrenia is a disease that sometimes takes its own unexpected course. Setbacks should be expected, and are not signs of failure on anyone’s part.
There are aspects in the course of the illness that can help predict a better outcome for you. You can increase your chances for a good prognosis by knowing what the early indicators are for a possible relapse (feeling more irritable or agitated, increased memory problems, inability to sleep or concentrate, and a loss of interest in school, work, or friends), getting the best possible treatment as quickly as possible when you do relapse, and learning how to effectively self-manage a long-term mental illness.
Having schizophrenia does not necessarily mean the end of a normal life. At the beginning, it will take some time to learn how to manage your condition so that you can resume a normal life, but consistent medical and emotional support will be of great help. The outlook for people with schizophrenia continues to improve each year. Treatments that work well are available, and researchers are continuing to work on improving medications and studying the effectiveness of various treatments. Many people with schizophrenia can improve enough to lead independent and productive lives.