The Best Way to Treat Schizophrenia

Diagnosing and treating schizophrenia is critical to the well-being of the patient. Left untreated, schizophrenia can have devastating effects on those affected. According to Schizophrenia and Related Disorders Alliance of America, “Studies have indicated that 25% of those having schizophrenia recover completely, and 50% are improved over a 10-year period.” With treatment, it is possible for sufferers to reduce the severeness of their symptoms. 

Diagnosis

The first step in treating this disorder is recognizing it. Many sufferers aren’t aware that they have it, and therefore, they do not seek treatment on their own. However, friends and family members can look for symptoms, which commonly include hallucinations (especially hearing voices) and delusional behaviors such as paranoia or other false beliefs which appear to have no basis in reality. According to the Mayo Clinic, “Problems with certain naturally occurring brain chemicals, including neurotransmitters called dopamine and glutamate, also may contribute to schizophrenia.” If you suspect that someone you love is affected, the first step is to take him to a doctor that specializes in psychiatric disorders. Be detailed about the kinds of behaviors you have noticed, as this can aid in a more accurate diagnosis.

Your doctor will perform a series of tests in order to rule out other potential causes, and will ask questions to determine if you or your loved one is indeed suffering from schizophrenia. Since the disease is chronic and life-long, treatment will always be necessary. You or your loved one will never be “cured,” so it’s crucial to resist the urge to stop treatment because you feel that it is complete. The primary form of treatment includes various medications to regulate brain chemistry, but some of them have side effects that make patients less likely to take them.

Common medications include antipsychotics such as:

Chlorpromazine: This medication works by acting on chemical receptors in different parts of the nervous system, which helps patients to process brain chemicals in a more effective manner. It is primarily used to treat delusions and potential anxiety, but it does tend to react with other medications like blood thinners. This drug is classified as low potency, so the side effects aren’t as severe as with other medications, and it carries less of a seizure risk than more highly potent medications. 

Fluphenazine: A common method of treating schizophrenia, Fluphenazine works by blocking dopamine receptors in the brain to help balance out chemistry. This drug has adverse effects when mixed with alcohol and other depressants like muscle relaxers, so make sure to tell your doctor if you are taking it. Its side effects may also include motor disorders such as tremors and issues with balance. 

Haloperidol: (Haldol) This drug also works by blocking dopamine receptors and other receptors to help balance brain chemistry. Like Fluphenazine, it should not be mixed with alcohol and it can cause tremor-like disorders, which may become permanent. Haloperidol is dangerous to fetuses, so patients who are pregnant should talk with their doctor to find an alternate treatment. 

Perphenazine: A common antipsychotic, Perphenazine has been used widely for decades in the treatment of schizophrenia and related mental disorders. It has proven to be effective in treating symptoms such as hallucinations and delusions, but its effect of other symptoms is not as well known. It is commonly mixed with an antidepressant for a more well rounded treatment. 

Support

Once you and your doctor have found a medication or combination of medications to treat the symptoms of schizophrenia, it is helpful to find support. The Schizophrenia and Related Disorders Alliance of America has many resources available to help patients and their caregivers to connect with one another for support. Along with therapy, it can be helpful for patients to talk with each other in order to compare symptoms and foster a feeling of belonging. One set of resources available on the SARDAA website is a list of anti-stigma groups. Many people with mental illness report feeling stigmatized. An Op-Ed in the New York Times written by Edward Larkin and Irene Hurford entitled “Perpetuating Schizophrenia’s Stigma” states, “People who suffer from it are often suspected of being dangerous, but this is not usually the case, and antipsychotic drugs are very effective.”

Behavioral Therapy

Behavioral therapy is an important component in the treatment of schizophrenia. The Psychiatric Times reports that, “The therapeutic techniques used for patients with schizophrenia are based on the general principles of CBT. Links are established between thoughts, feelings, and actions in a collaborative and accepting atmosphere. Agendas are set and used but are generally more flexibly developed than in traditional CBT.” Adding behavioral therapy into a treatment routine may increase the effectiveness of overall treatment and allow the patient to identify which thoughts and behavior patterns can be attributed to their illness. 

One of the more feared mental illnesses, it can be difficult for people with schizophrenia to seek treatment, but if they do, their quality of life may be significantly improved. If you feel that you or a loved one may have the disease, seek help.