There is more and more awareness about the causes and symptoms of schizophrenia. The treatments and medications that are available have become increasingly effective. Unfortunately, no conclusive cures have been discovered and the best available treatments can only mitigate some of the symptoms. Some of the symptoms will linger throughout the lifespan of the person afflicted with schizophrenia. However, it is possible, despite schizophrenia, to lead a meaningful life, with the help of medication and therapy.
Antipsychotic medication is usually, the first line of treatment for schizophrenia. There are two kinds of antipsychotic medication – typical, which were developed in the 1950s and atypical, which were developed in the 1990s.
In recent years, atypical antipsychotic medications have come to be preferred over typical antipsychotic medication because the former cause less undesirable side effects than the latter. Examples of atypical antipsychotic medication used to combat schizophrenia include clozapine, risperidone, olanzapine, quetiapine, ziprasidone and aripripazole. Examples of typical antipsychotic medication include chlorpromazine and haloperidol. Some of the side-effects caused by the typical antipsychotic medication are rigidity, persistent muscle spasms, tremors, and restlessness, often grouped under the term, extrapyramidal side effects.
The medications usually start working within a few days, effectively alleviating symptoms such as hallucinations and agitation in a few days and reducing the occurrence of schizophrenic delusions within a few weeks. Since each individual schizophrenia patient responds differently to medication, it is impossible to predict how soon the medication will work, or in fact, which medication is the right one. Often the patient and doctor have to work together in a process of trial and error to find the right kind of medication.
Various kinds of therapy can be used as part of schizophrenia treatment to build on the results of medication. Therapy usually focuses on symptoms related to social functioning, motivation and self-esteem. Working with a therapist gives the schizophrenia patient a reliable and sympathetic source of guidance. This can be crucial to building the patient’s capacity and motivation to heal. A therapist can train the patient to self-manage the illness. Through therapy, schizophrenia patients can be educated to monitor their symptoms, adhere to a medication schedule and have coping strategies for persistent problems.
Various kinds of therapy have been found to be useful for different kinds of schizophrenia patients. This includes talk therapy such as psychotherapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, which focuses on teaching the patient how to test the reality of their perceptions and a relatively new approach called cognitive remediation therapy, which aims to remediate the nuerocognitive defects caused by schizophrenia.
It is crucial for the schizophrenia patient to have access to non-judgmental, and dependable sources of support. Family, self-help groups, community centers etc. have an important role to play in providing such support. Families of schizophrenia patients should educate themselves about the symptoms and coping strategies. In the case of a patient who has been discharged from the clinic into the family’s care, it is particularly important to avoid a relapse.
Rehabilitation is an area where community support can make a huge difference. Since schizophrenia strikes early and affects cognitive functions, most patients do not pick up career skills and cannot compete with peers in job markets. Therefore, rehabilitation focuses on vocational training, financial and time management, communication and social skills etc. Rehabilitation enables the schizophrenia patient to integrate into the community as a productive member.
In recent times, service-user led groups and self-help groups have made dramatic inroads in removing the stigma associated with mental illness by developing a constructive, patient-led approach to recovery from schizophrenia. Participation in such groups encourages the patient to develop a sense of personal responsibility and self-esteem.
Working consistently with a doctor and choosing the right kind of pharmacotherapy is key to keeping schizophrenia under control Thus, a combination of medication, therapy and community support can be a possible treatment for schizophrenia symptoms, in most cases.