Can Schizophrenics Live Normal Lives?
It is possible for individuals with schizophrenia to live a normal life, but only with good treatment. Residential care allows for a focus on treatment in a safe place, while also giving patients tools needed to succeed once out of care. Schizophrenia treatment includes medication, therapy, social and family support, and the use of social services. Treatment must be ongoing, as this is a chronic illness without a cure. When schizophrenia is treated and managed over the long-term, most people can live normal, productive, and fulfilling lives.
Schizophrenia is a serious mental illness, and it has no known cure. However, this condition is treatable. While it was once thought to be a disease that only worsened over time, schizophrenia is now known to be manageable thanks to modern treatment practices.
With a dedication to ongoing treatment, often beginning with intensive residential care, most individuals can live normal or almost-normal lives. Most patients will get better but still have occasional episodes, but about 20 percent will recover within five years.
As a psychotic condition, schizophrenia can cause some very troubling symptoms, like hallucinations and delusions, that make daily life challenging. Without treatment it can lead to isolation, an inability to work or go to school, depression, suicide, and other complications.
A multi-faceted treatment approach that changes with each patient’s needs is essential to helping people diagnosed with schizophrenia live normal lives.
Schizophrenia Symptoms and Diagnosis
It is not possible to live a normal life if schizophrenic symptoms go ignored, undiagnosed, and untreated. The signs of schizophrenia include delusions, hallucinations, disorganized thoughts, confusing speech, unusual behaviors and movements, agitation or aggression, flat or inappropriate emotional affect, and in some cases catatonia or extreme lethargy.
It is crucial to be evaluated if any of these signs develop. A mental health professional can use a medical examination, medical history, observations, and interviewing to determine if a person’s symptoms are caused by schizophrenia or another condition. It is only with this accurate diagnosis that a patient can then get the treatment necessary to manage symptoms and go back to enjoying a more normal life.
Schizophrenia Management is Possible
Living a normal life with schizophrenia doesn’t necessarily mean never having symptoms again—it means being able to manage this chronic illness in order to live independently, or mostly independently, and do all the things other adults do, such as work and have families. The key to managing and living well with this condition is treatment. With good and ongoing treatment it is possible to live an enjoyable and fulfilling life. Most people improve with treatment, although recurrences are possible. There are certain factors that make some people more likely to see the best improvement in function, such as:
- Functioning well before the onset of schizophrenia
- Being older when the symptoms first began
- Not having a family history of schizophrenia
- Having symptoms begin suddenly, rather than beginning slowly
- Having a higher IQ
While these factors seem to contribute to greater success in recovery from schizophrenia, anyone with this condition can improve and live normally with good treatment.
The Importance of Residential Treatment for Schizophrenia
Symptoms of schizophrenia can be very troubling and disruptive. They can also be severe and cause significant impairment in a person’s life. In some cases an episode of symptoms may even be severe enough to require temporary hospitalization. For anyone diagnosed with this mental health condition, residential treatment is strongly recommended.
Residential care gives patients the opportunity to focus on and engage with treatment without worrying about home, family, work, and other responsibilities. Inpatient care is also more intensive and helps patients jump-start recovery, guiding them through strategies and exercises that will help them manage their illness once back at home. Treatment in a residential facility gives patients all the tools they need to be successful once they leave, while also providing a safe environment in which to go through therapy.
Medication to Manage Symptoms
The most important part of treatment for schizophrenia is medication. It is nearly impossible to manage symptoms without antipsychotic drugs. There are two classes of antipsychotics: first generation and second generation. It may take a few attempts with different medications from either class to find one that works best for a patient, which means providing the best symptom relief with the fewest side effects. Patients may also benefit from anti-anxiety medications or antidepressants if they also struggle with other mental illnesses.
Therapy to Make Positive Changes
Medication is so important to managing schizophrenia, but therapy is also crucial for learning to live with this disease. Behavioral therapies, for instance, can help patients learn how to recognize symptoms and signs of an episode, while also taking positive steps to change negative thoughts and behaviors that are under a person’s control. This kind of therapy also gives patients action-oriented strategies and tools for managing stress, for coping with challenges in healthy ways, and for setting and meeting goals.
Other types of therapy can supplement behavioral therapies or may work better for certain individuals. Alternative and creative therapies are often offered in residential treatment centers, and can be useful for exploring emotions and finding positive ways to cope. These include music and art therapy, drama therapy, animal therapies, and even massage therapy for relaxation and stress.
Social and Family Support
Medication and therapy are the traditional and necessary elements of treatment for schizophrenia, but support cannot be overlooked for helping patients live with this illness. Support can come from family, friends, therapists, and other people living with schizophrenia. Group therapy and support groups, for instance, can be helpful by providing an outlet for sharing difficult emotions and experiences and for relying on others who understand what it means to have this illness.
Family support, when possible, is also very helpful for people trying to live well with schizophrenia. Family can provide practical support, such as housing and money. They can also provide love, comfort, and guidance. Family should get involved with treatment when possible, for instance going through family psychoeducation. This kind of programming teaches family members about schizophrenia and how to support someone living with it.
Vocational and Social Services
While treatment and support can help successfully manage symptoms of schizophrenia, patients still may be left with deficits in function. For instance, they may struggle with holding down a job or finding housing and managing money. To really live an independent and normal life with schizophrenia requires a range of services and assistance. Vocational training can help someone get and keep a job, while housing services can help find a recovering patient an affordable place to live. Other services may include transportation, academic support, or social groups.
Self-Care and Management at Home
Once treatment ends in a residential setting and patients are set up with social services and sources of social support, self-care becomes important. A good treatment plan should teach patients strategies and tools for self-care and for managing their illness once back at home. This may mean taking advantage of socializing opportunities whenever possible, but also more specific strategies, including:
- Managing stress with relaxation techniques, like deep breathing or meditation
- Getting regular exercise
- Eating nutritious foods and maintaining a healthy weight
- Getting enough sleep
- Maintaining good overall physical health
- Avoiding drugs and alcohol
- Getting treatment for and managing any other mental illnesses, like depression
- Asking for help when needed
Ongoing, Lifelong Treatment
One of the most important things that people with schizophrenia must understand about living a normal life is that this is a lifelong disease. It requires ongoing treatment and management. There are likely to be recurrences of symptoms, as with any chronic illness, but ongoing care can help individuals cope successfully with these episodes.
Ongoing treatment does not have to be as intensive as the initial treatment an individual gets for schizophrenia. It can be a weekly therapy session, continuing use of medications, and even occasional overnight or extended stays in treatment facilities as needed. Continuing with self-care and always seeking positive support are also essential to long-term management of schizophrenia.
It is possible and even likely for someone with schizophrenia to live a normal life if there is a commitment to treatment. There is a small percentage of people who will continue to struggle with symptoms and to live independently, but most patients who go through treatment, find the right medications, continue with ongoing therapy and support, and practice good self-care and management will recover sufficiently to live normally and well.