Schizophrenia Recovery

Schizophrenia is a very serious mental disorder. The view of the medical profession however, about this disorder until recently, was that it was incurable.

When Ronald F. Levant, EdD, spoke at a convention in 1999, to other psychologists, his message was, that recovery from schizophrenia was possible and that recovery was in fact happening with regularity. He was met with disbelief from colleges, who asked if he had lost his own mind.

SchizophreniaCredit: Flickr Caste

About 1% of the population will suffer from schizophrenia. Suffers of this psychiatric disease, become vulnerable to job loss, homelessness, health problems and early death.

Social stigma, the disapproval of society and extreme discrimination are also part of the experience of this disorder for many sufferers. And sadly, many people also have the unfounded belief, that those who have schizophrenia are violent.

People who have this serious, psychiatric disorder, are not more likely to be violent than any other person. In fact, it is much more likely, that suffers will engage in self-harm, or be victims of the violence of others.

By far, the most violence in Western societies, comes about due to alcohol and drug use and not because someone is suffering a psychotic disorder.

However, let's get back to schizophrenia recovery and the growing movement of advocates, psychologists and other professionals, who are dedicated to helping this group of people.

IsolatedCredit: Flickr ndanger

The new paradigm aimed at recovery and rehabilitation, is focused around developing the potential of the patient, assisted by a collaborative group of therapists. Medical professionals, psychologists and other health-care providers assist the patient, offering training and support, to restore social and workplace functioning.

Recent research shows, that our brains have significant neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity means  that the structure and function of the brain, is capable of change. Our thoughts and behaviours bring about this change.

Rehabilitation is the focus. And the aim is, to restore patients to functioning, active and happy members of society --with jobs. Psychosocial rehabilitation, provides patients with education, skills training and information about medications. Psychologists and therapists, can also help with the sadness and grief, which often comes with having a serious psychiatric health disorder.

Countenay M. Harding, PhD, a recently retired professor of psychiatry, from the University of Colorado, spent many years studying schizophrenia outcomes. Most well-known for her longitudinal studies in the United States, Harding's research centered on 269 patients from Vermont State Hospital.

This group was part of the first deinstitutionalization programs, which emptied the state-run mental hospitals, from the 1950s-1970s. The rehabilitation program for this group of people, who had been diagnosed with chronic schizophrenia and who it was believed, could not survive in mainstream society, operated for ten years (1955-1965).

A team of professionals, which included psychiatrists, nurses, vocational counselors, and sociologists, helped the patients find housing in the community and assisted with the finding of jobs and other individualised social support; working with the particular needs of the individual.

HelpCredit: Flickr betsyweber

Harding assessed these patients in the 1980s; around 32 years later and found that contrary to her expectations, 62% to 68% of these patients, showed no signs of schizophrenia. Professor Harding, believed that the psychosocial treatment programs, had been responsible for these incredible results. 

When a patient is psychotic and out of touch with reality, the psychosocial approach can have little effect. However, once the patient is stabilized with medication, much can be done to improve the life and function of the sufferer.

There are actually many people who have experienced psychosis and schizophrenia symptoms, who now lead very successful lives. Here are but a few:

Daniel Fisher, M.D., Ph.D. --A board-certified psychiatrist. A graduate of Princeton University. Fisher had a psychotic breakdown, which included hallucinations and delusions. He is now The co-founder and executive director of The National Empowerment Center (NEC). This organization offers advocacy and peer-support and promotes an empowerment-based recovery model for mental illness. 

Tom Harrell --A famous jazz musician, has struggled with schizophrenia and yet has become one of the most outstanding trumpet players and composers in the last 30 years.

Meera Popkin --She starred in the musicals "Cats" and Miss "Saigon" on Broadway and in London's West End. She now has had treatment and has a support system and is involved in co-writing a musical about her life.

Elyn Saks--Is  Associate Dean and Orrin B. Evans Professor of Law, Psychology, and Psychiatry and the Behavioral Sciences at the University of Southern California Gould Law School. Her autobiography, The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through Madness, details her experiences with schizophrenia.

However, a person does not need to be famous, gifted or talented in order to live a valuable and successful life. These examples are chosen, simply, because the subjects are well-known.

Remember also, community attitudes are very important and people with mental health problems are often stigmatized and misrepresented in the news, in film and in conversation. Such attitudes marginalize, dehumanize and isolate this group of people unfairly.  

Mad in America: Bad Science, Bad Medicine, and the Enduring Mistreatment of the Mentally Ill
Amazon Price: $17.99 $5.67 Buy Now
(price as of Mar 23, 2016)
In Mad in America, medical journalist Robert Whitaker argues that modern treatments for the severely mentally ill are just old medicine in new bottles, and that we as a society are deeply deluded about their efficacy.
The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through Madness
Amazon Price: $16.00 $7.34 Buy Now
(price as of Mar 23, 2016)
Elyn Saks is a success by any measure: she's an endowed professor at the prestigious University of Southern California Gould School of Law. She has managed to achieve this in spite of being diagnosed as schizophrenic and given a "grave" prognosis -- and suffering the effects of her illness throughout her life.

Law Professor Elyn Saks