Early Schizophrenia Treatment: Better Outcomes

by Christina Bruni Patient Expert

Where there is life there is hope.

Statistics on recovery from schizophrenia are hopeful.
I cannot in good conscience tell you very few people recover.
A woman who is labeled as some kind of internationally recognized expert claimed in an Internet news article two weeks ago that people can't recover.
She parroted "news" that was 10 years old without giving techniques to help people recover.
She did not treat nor counsel people with schizophrenia yet was given a platform to claim very few people recover.

You have to be careful whose advice you take.
I'm writing this SharePost in response to a dust-up I had with this woman in response to her article.
I detail here specific strategies that can greatly aid you to recover or aid a loved one to recover.

All five long-term studies (Courtenay Harding, PhD's Vermont study was the most famous) indicate upwards of 60 percent of the people diagnosed with schizophrenia fully recover or significantly improve.
Among those who do less well good improvement is also possible.

Research also shows that eighty five percent of individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia reach the stabilization, stable and recovery phases of this illness.
Fifteen percent have refractory symptoms.
See my SharePost on The Phases of Schizophrenia for information about this.

The time IS right for recovery from schizophrenia.

Robert Paul Liberman, M.D. and Alex Kopelowicz, M.D. championed recovery as early as 2005 in their journal article: Recovery from Schizophrenia: Is the Time Right? (Psychiatric Services http://ps.psychiatryonline.org June 2005 Vol. 56 No. 6)

Recovery from schizophrenia is a feasible goal because:

"There is strong evidence that persons, with even long-term and disabling forms of schizophrenia, can recover; that is, enjoy lengthy periods of time free of psychotic symptoms and partake of community life as an independent citizen."

In addition:

"Long-term follow-up studies of persons who had experienced severe forms of schizophrenia earlier in their lives have discovered that over 50 percent of these individuals are living what might be considered 'normal' lives-working, socializing, playing, living, without close supervision and with little or no psychotic symptoms-20 to 30 years after their illness began.

These 'recoveries' have been documented in Japan, Germany, Switzerland, Scotland, France and the US; moreover, they are not simply a reflection of the 'brain burning out' with age."

The last quote from the journal article authors gets straight to the point:

"The key to succeeding in this endeavor lies in early intervention, engaging the patient and family in a comprehensive program of treatment and rehabilitation within the first years of the illness.
When persons having the recent onset of schizophrenia are involved in an integrated biobehavioral treatment program, they show rapid and substantial remission of their positive and negative symptoms."

You might think I set the bar low for what constitutes recovery.
Yet I would not presume to tell you that you or a loved one cannot recover.
I would not engage in your or your loved one's treatment any professional who told you very few people recover from schizophrenia.
Tact restricts me from giving out the actual name of the so-called expert who claimed very few recover.

The figures I quoted up front I didn't pull out of a hat like a magician.
What can we do to improve the chance that most people experiencing schizophrenia symptoms recover?

First, it hinges on family and patient education.
The earlier a person gets treated with medication and therapy the better the outcome.
See my SharePost on Early Schizophrenia Intervention for details.
Early if not immediate intervention is critical.
The earlier you get treatment the more likely the medication will work.

Thus the key to effective treatment is preemptive education.
School counselors and teachers and principals must offer services to at-risk youth that show early signs and symptoms of schizophrenia or another mental illness.
Staff need to meet with parents and teachers and counselors to provide social skills training and psychoeducation at the schools and in the community.
The services must be tailored to the student's goals.

More documentaries need to be made showcasing people in recovery and the films need to be shown across America in multiple venues like library auditoriums, theaters and on community access cable TV.

My first ever SharePost here talked about Optimism and Hope for Successful Treatment Outcomes.
I also wrote an article about schizophrenia early warning signs you can review.
You can read the criteria for a schizophrenia diagnosis too.

Early intervention is critical.
The disease progression model holds that the longer you go without treatment the illness progresses and you lose brain functioning.

My own empirical evidence corroborates this theory.
One female blogger with a following was actively psychotic for 7 years before getting treatment and her life continues to be an uphill battle and she has residual symptoms.

Another female blogger who published a schizophrenia memoir in 2005 didn't get treatment for at least a decade and has gone in and out of the hospital numerous times every year since writing her book.

I've seen firsthand in my own life the hell and heartache when a loved one doesn't get treatment until too late in the game.

The anti-psychiatry crowd is against the use of medication at all times.
It's scary they're not campaigning against the use of street drugs to self-medicate symptoms of
a mental illness.
This is the far more likely scenario when treatment is delayed: a person turns to street drugs or alcohol.

In the coming months I will feature recovery stories written by individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia who are doing well.

I will detail in my first SharePost in October a specific strategy for achieving recovery from schizophrenia:
social skills training.
The news article will talk about this evidence-based treatment.

Where there is life there is hope.

Christina Bruni
Meet Our Writer
Christina Bruni

Christina Bruni wrote about schizophrenia for HealthCentral as a Patient Expert. She is a mental health activist and freelance journalist.