What Does Successful Schizophrenia Treatment Mean?
Successful schizophrenia treatment means different things to different people. Close to one in four people recover enough from schizophrenia to live productive independent or semi-independent lives. To a psychiatrist who did not know their previous history, some of these people might not even appear to be suffering from schizophrenia. Such improvement in mental health is often achieved with the support of antipsychotic medications that can control symptoms well in many people. When someone who previously dealt with the disease is free of symptoms for six months, he is said to be in remission. The longer a remission lasts, the better someone's future prospects are.
Regular visits to a psychiatrist may help ensure that everything continues to go well. If the patient is taking medications, their effects must be monitored so problems can be discussed and treatment adjusted. Discontinuing medication and other treatment greatly increases the chance of relapse.
Remissions and Other Outcomes
Remissions occur in a significant percentage of people diagnosed with schizophrenia. An older guideline predicting the fate of people with schizophrenia divided the population into thirds. One-third would have an excellent chance of complete recovery. One-third would experience healthy periods interspersed with recurring episodes of the disease. The least fortunate third would suffer from a chronic form of the disease and undergo a steady deterioration.
A more recent compilation of studies that followed the fate of schizophrenia patients divides the population into quarters. A study cited in E. Fuller Torrey's book Surviving Schizophrenia, compares outcomes one decade and three decades after onset of the disease.
After ten years, 25 percent of patients have recovered completely. Another 25 percent have shown significant improvement and can live independently for the most part. Another 25 percent show definite improvement but still need an active, well-developed social and therapeutic support network to function adequately. Fifteen percent require hospitalization, and 10 percent are deceased, often the victims of suicide.
Even during remission, the underlying predisposition to schizophrenia remains. It is important that people in remission take care of themselves to avoid excessive stress and continue treatment. Furthermore, the person in remission and people close to her will benefit by learning to recognize behavioral clues that might signal a return of disease symptoms.
After thirty years, the percentage of patients who recover completely — 25 percent — does not change from the earlier study to the later one. The percentage that enters the next optimistic category — significant improvement with nearly independent living status — increases to 35 percent from 25 percent. This increase appears to result from a decrease in patients who show definite improvement but need an active, well-developed social and therapeutic support network; that category drops from 25 percent to 15 percent. Further progress is evident in the drop in unimproved, hospitalized patients, from 15 percent to 10 percent. The percentage of deaths rises to 15 percent from 10 percent. Again, most of these are due to suicide, according to Torrey.
Tips for Staying in Remission
Structure your life to minimize stress. Develop an ordered lifestyle; if possible, it should be built around what you must do and what you enjoy doing. Work to eliminate stresses that you don't need and can avoid; for instance, irritating acquaintances, self-imposed deadlines, expectations around the holidays, and attempts to impress others.
Try to bring structure and balance in your life. Try to find a comfortable sleep-wake rhythm that suits you and stick to this routine as much as possible.
Strive for a stress-free environment. At the same time, look for methods to cope with stress. Try to recognize the triggers for psychosis and be alert for new psychotic episodes. If you think something is going wrong, don't hesitate to seek help.