Contrary to misconceptions about schizophrenia, it is treatable. A combination of medication and therapy, in many cases, has been found to improve the quality of life of people with schizophrenia. While it is not preventable, many resources exist to support and meet the care needs of people with schizophrenia.
A combination of psychotherapy and psychotropic medication is one of the most recommended treatment approaches for schizophrenia. Antipsychotic medications are often used to treat symptoms of schizophrenia. These medications affect neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin. There are two groups of antipsychotic medication for treating schizophrenia:
- Typical (conventional) antipsychotics: These are also referred to as first-generation antipsychotics. They have a greater potential for causing side effects than newer atypical antipsychotics. This group contains drugs such as Thorazine (chlorpromazine), Prolixin (fluphenazine), Haldol (haloperidol), and Trilafon (perphenazine).
- Atypical antipsychotics: This class of antipsychotics typically has a lower risk of developing severe side effects. Some atypical antipscyhotics include Abilify (aripiprazole), Clozaril (clozapine), and Risperdal (risperidone).
The aim of treating schizophrenia with antipsychotics is to control symptoms with the lowest possible dosage. Sometimes psychiatrists or physicians will try various medications, dosages, and combinations of drugs to achieve the best results for the person being treated. In certain cases they may prescribe antianxiety medications or antidepressants.
Therapy is widely recommended and used in treating schizophrenia. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) in particular has been shown to produce positive outcomes for people with schizophrenia. A modified version of CBT was created to help people set goals, normalize their experience, and question beliefs about hallucinations and delusions.
Family therapy may also be helpful for those with schizophrenia and their family. As the family is, in some cases, the support network for someone with schizophrenia, family therapy can support people with schizophrenia by integrating their family or support network into therapeutic treatment. Psychoeducation may also be used to help inform people about their condition so they can better recognize their symptoms for what they are.
Schizophrenia may lead to other medical issues that need to be treated. Therapy is often used to help people manage chronic health issues and may be helpful in this regard to those with schizophrenia.
In severe episodes of schizophrenia, hospitalization may occur, and it may be voluntary or involuntary based on the situation. The goal of hospitalization is to help an individual control their symptoms so they can regain the ability to function in day-to-day life.
During hospitalization, doctors will be able to observe the person and run tests to better understand their condition. If the person is visiting the hospital for schizophrenia for the first time, doctors may prescribe medication or other treatment to help manage the symptoms.
Sometimes, people with schizophrenia don’t recognize that they need help and may refuse or forget to take their medication. If symptoms return for this reason or another, another hospital visit could be necessary.
There are cases when a person must be hospitalized involuntarily—this occurs when the person with schizophrenia is a danger to themselves or others. While a very small fraction of those with schizophrenia are violent towards others, their risk for suicide is high. In many cases, state laws determine in which specific cases a person must be hospitalized.
When someone you care for has schizophrenia, it can be difficult to know what to say to support them or what to do if they are having trouble acknowledging or coming to terms with their condition. Some tips for helping a loved one with schizophrenia include:
- Talk to someone with schizophrenia the same way you would talk to anyone else. In some cases, those with schizophrenia may appear disinterested, but this may not always indicate a wish to disengage.
- Don’t tell a person with schizophrenia to “just stop listening” if they experience auditory hallucinations, as it is not an easy matter to “tune out” from them.
- If your loved one is hospitalized, be there to support them during and after the visit. The first days or week after leaving the hospital may be difficult to cope with alone.
- Don’t continually remind your loved one to take their medication. If forgetfulness is an issue, work with them to develop a plan for remembering to take it.
- If someone with schizophrenia refuses to accept treatment, you cannot force them to do so. In most cases, treatment may only be mandated by law if the person is a danger to themselves or others.
Much like any other mental health issue, those with schizophrenia may have days when their symptoms are better, and others when they are worse. Being there to offer support is often key. If providing care begins to cause burnout, seeing a therapist may help you develop strategies to cope, as well.
Therapy for negative symptoms of schizophrenia: Sheila, 27, has noticed an increased wish to self-isolate. Being around family members and coworkers has been causing her to experience severe stress reactions, so she tries to be home by herself as often as she can. However, when she is home, she begins to have frightening visual hallucinations that make it look like her house is crumbling around her. After some time, a family member suspects Sheila may need help and asks her if they can help. The family member helps Sheila set up an appointment with a therapist, who diagnoses Sheila with schizophrenia. They refer her to a psychiatrist for medication to control the hallucinations, but Sheila continues to see her therapist while she takes her medication. Working with a therapist helps Sheila address some of the negative symptoms of her schizophrenia, including social withdrawal and a loss of pleasure in daily life.
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