In 1994, a study by J.D. Hegarty and colleagues examined existing data to figure out just how likely patients are to recover from schizophrenia. These researchers studied outcome data from more than 100 years for patients treated around the world. Not surprisingly, after the creation of antipsychotic medications, outcome for schizophrenia was much improved.
With medication, patients are far more likely to live independently and get relief from their symptoms. Outcomes appeared to worsen in the years 1986–1991. This is because the diagnostic criteria changed in 1980 and it became much more difficult for someone to be diagnosed with the illness. Before 1980, patients who today would be diagnosed with major depression might have been diagnosed with schizophrenia instead. The effect of this change is that patients who were treated for schizophrenia had a more severe form of the illness after 1980 and thus were harder to treat successfully.
So what percentage of patients with schizophrenia has a positive treatment outcome? Another recent study suggests that from 15 to 25 years after developing schizophrenia, approximately 38 percent of patients have a fairly good outcome and will be able to function reasonably well after treatment.
It is unusual that a patient with schizophrenia returns to his or her level of functioning before developing the illness, but many are able to successfully manage their symptoms with medication and therapy. At the opposite extreme, about 12 percent of patients require long-term psychiatric hospitalization.
There are several forms of treatment for individuals with schizophrenia. Antipsychotic medications have been used for many years and successfully reduce symptoms. Newer drugs, called atypical antipsychotic medications, are providing new hope for patients whose symptoms were resistant to traditional neuroleptics.
Different types of counseling can help patients with schizophrenia learn to manage stress, monitor their symptoms, and master basic life skills. Family members are supported by family therapy, where they learn about their relative’s illness and have an opportunity to talk about the challenges of living with a mentally ill family member. Case managers help patients make the transition from hospital to community. Treatment for schizophrenia has improved drastically over the past 100 years.
Patients now have a much better chance of living independently and managing their illness.
Heather Barnett Veague, Ph.D.
Heather Barnett Veague attended the University of California, Los Angeles, and received her Ph.D. in psychology from Harvard University in 2004. She is the author of several journal articles investigating information processing and the self in borderline personality disorder. Currently, she is the Director of Clinical Research for the Laboratory of Adolescent Sciences at Vassar College. Dr. Veague lives in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, with her husband and children.