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The struggles of schizophrenia are real, whether you’re the person experiencing mental illness or hoping to help someone you love.
But there *are* schizophrenia treatments. And working with a doctor to find one that works for is critical to feeling better ASAP.
So, how do you treat schizophrenia?
Schizophrenia is a lifelong condition.
But effective treatment can help a person manage the symptoms, prevent relapses, and avoid hospitalization.
Common treatments include:
- antipsychotic drugs
- long-acting injectable medication
- electroconvulsive therapy
- community care
These treatments may not make it “easy” to lead a social and active life for people who live with schizophrenia. But they can help make one possible.
Let’s keep it 💯: There’s no cure for schizophrenia. It’s with you for life. But there are treatments that can help folks to:
- manage their symptoms
- stay out of the hospital
- live a productive, fulfilling life with schizophrenia
- avoid relapse
It’s critical to seek medical care if you think you or a loved one might have schizophrenia. A doctor can help you work out and stick to a suitable combo of treatments.
Second generation antipsychotics
Newer, second-gen antipsychotic drugs — aka “atypical” antipsychotics — tend to be slightly more effective and trigger fewer side effects than first-gen antipsychotics.
They don’t cure schizophrenia. But they can reduce how many delusions and hallucinations a person may experience.
Second-gen antipsychotic scrips
Here are the most common second-gen antipsychotic (SGA) prescription meds:
- amisulpride (Solian)
- aripiprazole (Ability or Abilify Maintena)
- clozapine (Clozaril, Denzapine, or Zaponex) (though, according to one 2014 overview this can have severe side effects, even though it’s 30 percent effective for managing symptoms — your doc will only prescribe clozapine if other treatments don’t work well)
- olanzapine (Zyprexa)
- paliperidone (Invega or Xeplion)
- quetiapine (Seroquel)
- risperidone (Risperdal)
A word of warning: These can have adverse effects that impact your metabolic processes, such as:
- weight gain
- diabetes mellitus
Despite these side effects, SGAs are usually the first treatment docs will try for peeps with schizophrenia.
First generation antipsychotics
Doctors will usually prescribe an SGA instead. But they may use FGAs when a person with schizophrenia doesn’t respond to other treatments.
Long-acting injectable antipsychotics
One of the biggest challenges of mental illness is remembering to take your meds. That’s the nature of the beast. Schizophrenia can affect your ability to think clearly and stay organized.
Enter injectables! Long-acting injectable antipsychotics can be helpful, because you get your dose every few weeks instead of every day.
These aren’t self-injections, BTW. You’ll need to visit a clinic or hospital to receive your shot from a nurse or doctor.
One of the most common side effect of antipsychotics is drowsiness. Here are some general side effects to look out for:
- muscle spasms or twitching
- tremors or general shakiness
- weight gain
- blurry vision
- dry mouth
- low libido
- movement disorders ( Tardive Dyskinesia)
Super friendly reminder: Don’t stop taking your meds without talking to your doctor first.
Even if it feels like you don’t need them anymore or you’re sick of feeling sleepy… just don’t.
According to the American Psychological Association, therapy and community support are also super important when it comes to managing schizophrenia.
- Individual counseling. You don’t need to go through schizophrenia alone. A trained psychotherapist can help you manage stress, identify triggers, and develop coping skills to deal with your diagnosis.
- Family therapy. A mental illness diagnosis can be challenging for the whole family. Family therapy or support groups can help you all get on the same page about effective communication and coping skills.
- Employment help. It can be tough to juggle work responsibilities when you’re dealing with a mental illness. There are programs designed to help folks with schizophrenia prepare for, get, and keep a job.
- Coordinated special care. This is a holistic approach to managing schizophrenia. You’ll have a team of people who communicate to provide the best meds, family support, education, and employment help.
Schizophrenia lands on the top 20 list for causes of disability. It can deeply disrupt your daily life, especially when you’re in the middle of a crisis or episode of psychosis.
If your schizophrenia symptoms are severe, please — Ask 👏 for 👏 help! 👏
Relapses are serious and sometimes mean that folks with schizophrenia have to stay in the hospital. That’s okay. It means you or the person you care for is getting the necessary help.
Some folks with schizophrenia have symptoms that don’t respond to meds. The doctor might recommend electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) for them instead.
It can look like:
- staring into space
- an inability to speak
- rigidness or seeming unable to move
- nonresponsiveness to people touching you or talking to you
What do I do if a loved one with schizophrenia is refusing treatment?
Helping someone who doesn’t want help is tricky. It’s important to respect your loved one’s wishes. But it’s also possible that they’re in denial.
There are a few steps you can take:
- Be clear, be kind. Sit down with the person and calmly and directly talk about your concerns. Offer as much support as you can safely offer. For conversation templates, check out I Am Not Sick I Don’t Need Help.
- Research assisted outpatient treatment (AOT). Sometimes people with mental illnesses are unable to understand the severity of their symptoms. AOT laws allow judges to order treatment for individuals in specific situations.
- Recruit outside help. Does your loved one have other friends or family? Ask them to join your intervention efforts. Sometimes, it takes a village.
Living with schizophrenia is tough, no doubt. But some lifestyle tweaks can make it easier.
- Learn about your condition. Knowledge is power! Educating yourself about schizophrenia can help you make sense of your symptoms. It’s also a great way to educate those around you and to help them support your mental health journey.
- Ditch the booze. Alcohol and prescription meds don’t mix. The same goes for cigarettes and weed. Talk to your doc if you’re struggling to give up drinking or drugs.
- Join a support group. Navigating mental illness can be lonely. It helps to connect with others who understand what you’re going through.
- Take deep breaths. Meditation will not cure schizophrenia. But it can certainly help you manage the stress that comes with the condition. Find what works for you. Try yoga, deep breathing, mindfulness apps, or tai chi. There’s no one-size-fits-all way to breathe.
- Ask for help. Lean on friends and family, sure. But also look into social assistance programs. You might be able to get support with rent, schooling, finding a job, and transportation.
- Keep your eye on the prize! What do you want from life? What do you hope to accomplish? Keeping your symptoms under control will help you reach your goals. And knowing your goals might motivate you to manage your symptoms. Win-win!
Schizophrenia can manifest in several ways. In previous versions, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) lists several types of schizophrenia:
- paranoid schizophrenia
- catatonic schizophrenia
- undifferentiated schizophrenia
- residual schizophrenia
In the most recent version, DSM-5, there’s only one diagnosis: schizophrenia.
If someone has severe catatonia, they get a diagnosis of “schizophrenia with catatonia.”
Treatment is individualized and will adapt based on how a person responds to combined and independent therapies.
Researchers continue looking for new treatments and, hopefully, a full cure for schizophrenia.
A couple of new treatments show some promise:
Deep brain stimulation. This invasive treatment involves a neurotransmitter implant that sends electrical impulses to parts of the brain. Research is ongoing to see how effective deep brain stimulation may be for those who don’t respond well to antipsychotic drugs.
A new drug. In 2020, researchers found that a new type of drug called SEP-363856 seemed to alleviate schizophrenia symptoms (catchy name, too). The trial was small — just 120 patients got the drug for a 4-week treatment — but results were promising.
If you or someone you love has a schizophrenia diagnosis, it’s normal to have alllll the questions (which is good — it means you care). Let’s tackle some of the biggest ones.
Is there a cure?
No — at least not yet! Current treatments focus on helping folks manage their symptoms and avoid severe episodes that require hospitalization.
Scientists are awesome, though. So the future may just bring a full cure. But right now, there’s enough support to help peeps with schizophrenia lead a fulfilling life.
How long does the condition last?
A schizophrenia diagnosis is for life. Though it’s chronic, symptoms *are* treatable.
But many folks with schizophrenia face the unfortunate prospect of dying young due to other physical illnesses, according to the World Health Organization.
That’s why it’s super important to connect peeps with schizophrenia to a team of doctors early on.
What factors could influence your outlook?
Medical and emotional support are critical for people with schizophrenia. The following factors can influence how well folks with schizophrenia navigate this difficult condition and their chances of keeping it under control:
- treatment availability in your region
- support from family and friends
- availability of community services like job or housing assistance
- sticking with your treatment plan
- people around you who know how to spot a psychotic episode
How to get treatment
The first step to alleviating schizophrenia symptoms is seeking consultation for a schizophrenia diagnosis.
You’ll want to talk with your doctor — or your loved one’s doctor — about any symptoms that fuel your suspicions about schizophrenia.
What to take to the appointment
You’ll need to meet certain symptom criteria to qualify for a schizophrenia diagnosis. Before seeing the doctor, gather information about the person who needs treatment — whether that’s you or someone you care about.
Here’s what you’ll want to have with you:
- family medical history
- personal physical and mental health history
- a list of meds or supplements taken regularly
- notes on recent suicidal thoughts and sudden mood shifts.
What will the doctor ask?
To be diagnosed with schizophrenia, a person needs to have at least two of these symptoms for a month or longer:
- a lack of motivation, emotion, or flat speech
- unusually disorganized or catatonic behavior
The doctor will ask about these symptoms and behaviors in detail. They might also ask you a series of questions about:
- your moods
- any use of drugs or alcohol
What to expect
You mean other than a physical exam, psych evaluation, and possible MRI or CT scan?
- Expect to be patient. A serious diagnosis like schizophrenia takes time and several diagnostic tests. Landing on a successful treatment plan takes more time. It’s more important to get it right than get it soon.
- Expect to need clarification. You might be overwhelmed with all the questions and information. Ask for clarification, take notes, and remind yourself that there’s time for research in the coming weeks and months.
- Expect to process your feelings. Whether you or someone you love is undergoing schizophrenia screening, you’re probably feeling all the feels. It might be scary. It might be sad. It might be a relief. Whatever you feel is OK. Be gentle with yourself.
Schizophrenia is a chronic, serious mental health condition that requires treatment. There’s no cure, but treatment can soothe and help you manage symptoms.
Depending on your symptoms, a doctor might prescribe:
- first-generation antipsychotics
- second-generation antipsychotics
- long-acting injectable antipsychotics
- therapy or in-patient care
- ECT or deep brain stimulation
If you suspect that you or someone you love has schizophrenia, talk to a doctor ASAP. The sooner you start the diagnostic process, the sooner you’ll get treatments to help you feel better.