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Schizophrenia Treatment and Recovery

Getting the Help and Support You Need

Schizophrenia treatment

Getting a diagnosis of schizophrenia can be devastating. But it doesn't mean you can't live a full and meaningful life. Early diagnosis and treatment can prevent complications and improve the chance of recovery, so if you suspect schizophrenia, see a doctor right away. With proper treatment and support, many people are able to reduce their symptoms, live and work independently, build satisfying relationships, and enjoy a fulfilling life.

Schizophrenia: New hope for treatment and recovery

Despite the widespread misconception that people with schizophrenia have no chance of recovery or improvement, the reality is much more hopeful. Although currently there is no cure for schizophrenia, it can be treated and managed with medication and supportive therapies.

A diagnosis of schizophrenia is not a life-sentence of ever-worsening symptoms and hospitalizations. Recovery is possible. In fact, the majority of people with schizophrenia get better over time, not worse. For every five people who develop schizophrenia:

  • One will get better within five years of their first symptoms.
  • Three will get better, but will still have times when their symptoms get worse.
  • One will continue to have troublesome symptoms.

What does schizophrenia recovery mean?

Recovery from schizophrenia is a lifelong process. It doesn’t mean you won’t experience any more challenges from the illness or that you’ll always be symptom-free. What it does mean is that you are learning to manage your symptoms, developing the support you need, and creating a satisfying, purpose-driven life.

Successful treatment for schizophrenia aims to relieve current symptoms, prevent future psychotic episodes, and restore your ability to function and enjoy a meaningful life. A schizophrenia treatment plan that combines medication with self-help, supportive services, and therapy is the most effective approach.

Encouraging facts about schizophrenia

  • Schizophrenia is treatable. Currently, there is no cure for schizophrenia, but the illness can be successfully treated and managed. The key is to have a strong support system in place and get the right treatment for your needs.
  • You can enjoy a fulfilling, meaningful life. With the right treatment, most people with schizophrenia are able to have satisfying relationships, work or pursue other meaningful activities, be part of the community, and enjoy life.
  • Just because you have schizophrenia doesn’t mean you’ll have to be hospitalized. If you’re getting the right treatment and sticking to it, you are much less likely to experience a crisis situation that requires hospitalization.
  • Most people with schizophrenia get better over time, not worse. People with schizophrenia can regain normal functioning and even become symptom free. No matter what challenges you presently face, there is always hope.

Schizophrenia treatment & recovery tip 1: Get involved in treatment

If you identify schizophrenia symptoms, seek help right away. The earlier you catch schizophrenia and begin treatment with an experienced mental health professional, the better your chances of getting and staying well.

Successful schizophrenia treatment depends on a combination of factors. Medication alone is not enough. It's important to also educate yourself about the illness, communicate with your doctors and therapists, have a strong support system, take self-help steps, and stick to your treatment plan.

While schizophrenia treatment should be individualized to your specific needs, you should always have a voice in the treatment process and your needs and concerns should be respected. Treatment works best when you, your family, and your medical team all work together.

Your attitude towards schizophrenia treatment matters

Accept your diagnosis. As upsetting as a diagnosis of schizophrenia can be, resolving to take prescribed medications and attend medical and therapy appointments is crucial to your recovery.

Don’t buy into the stigma of schizophrenia. Many fears about schizophrenia are not based on reality. Take your illness seriously but don’t buy into the myth that you can’t get better. Associate with people who see beyond your diagnosis, to the person you really are.

Communicate with your doctor. Help your doctor ensure you’re getting the right type and dose of medication. Be honest and upfront about side effects, concerns, and other treatment issues.

Pursue therapies that help you manage symptoms. Don’t rely on medication alone. Supportive therapy can teach you how to challenge delusional beliefs, ignore voices in your head, protect against relapse, and motivate yourself.

Set and work toward life goals. Having schizophrenia doesn’t mean you can’t work, have relationships, or experience a fulfilling life. Set meaningful life goals for yourself beyond your illness.

Getting a diagnosis

The first step to schizophrenia treatment is getting a correct diagnosis. This isn't always easy, since the symptoms of schizophrenia can resemble those caused by other mental and physical health problems. Furthermore, people with schizophrenia may believe nothing is wrong and resist going to the doctor.

Because of these issues, it is best to see a psychiatrist with experience identifying and treating schizophrenia, rather than a family doctor. To learn more, see Schizophrenia.

Tip 2: Manage stress

The day-to-day stress of living with a challenging emotional disorder such as schizophrenia can be draining. Stress can also trigger psychosis and make the symptoms of schizophrenia worse, so keeping it under control is extremely important.

Know your limits, both at home and at work or school. Don’t take on more than you can handle and take time to yourself if you feel overwhelmed.

Connect with others. Social interaction with someone who cares about you is the most effective way to calm your nervous system and relieve stress. Find someone you can connect with face to face—someone you can talk to for an uninterrupted period of time, someone who will listen to you without judging, criticizing, or continually being distracted. That person may be a friend, family member, clergy member, or professional therapist.

Use relaxation techniques to relieve stress. Techniques such as mindfulness meditation, deep breathing, or progressive muscle relaxation can put the brakes on stress and bring your mind and body back into a state of balance.

Manage your emotions. Understanding and accepting emotions—especially those unpleasant ones most of us try to ignore—can make a huge difference in your ability to manage stress, balance your moods, and maintain control of your life. See HelpGuide’s Emotional Intelligence Toolkit.

Tip 3: Find support

As well as helping to relieve stress, having the support of others can make a huge difference in the outlook for schizophrenia. When you have people who care about you and are involved in your treatment, you’re more likely to achieve independence and avoid relapse. To find support:

Turn to trusted friends and family members. Your loved ones can help you get the right treatment, keep your symptoms under control, and function well in your community. Ask loved ones if you can call on them in times of need. Most people will be flattered by your request for support.

Stay involved with others. If you’re able to continue work or education, do so. Otherwise, consider volunteering.

Meet new people. Joining a schizophrenia support group can help you meet other people dealing with the same challenges and learn important coping tips. Or get involved with a local church, club, or other organization.

Take advantage of support services in your area. Ask your doctor or therapist about services available in your area, contact hospitals and mental health clinics, or see the Resources section below for links to support services.

The importance of a supportive living environment in schizophrenia treatment

People with schizophrenia often do best when they’re able to remain in the home, surrounded by supportive family members, or can find a stable living environment where they feel safe.

  • Living with family is a particularly good option when your family members understand the illness, have a strong support system of their own, and are able to provide whatever assistance is needed.
  • Any living arrangement is more likely to be successful if you avoid using drugs or alcohol, follow your treatment plan, take care of yourself, and take advantage of outside support services.

Tip 4: Take self-help steps

Medication and other schizophrenia treatment can take time to take full effect but there are still things you can do for yourself to help manage symptoms, improve the way you feel, and increase your self-esteem. The more you do to help yourself, the less hopeless and helpless you’ll feel. Pursuing self-help may also enable your doctor to reduce your medication.

Get regular exercise. As well as all the emotional and physical benefits, exercise may even help reduce symptoms of schizophrenia. It’s also something you can do right now to improve your focus, give you more energy, and make you feel calmer. Aim for 30 minutes of activity on most days or if it’s easier, three 10-minute sessions. Try rhythmic exercise that engages both your arms and legs, such as walking, running, swimming, or dancing. Focus on how your body feels as you move—how your feet hit the ground, for example, the rhythm of your breathing, or the feeling of wind on your skin.

Try to get plenty of sleep. When you’re on medication, you most likely need even more sleep than the standard 8 hours. Many people with schizophrenia have trouble with sleep, but lifestyle changes (such as getting regular exercise and avoiding caffeine) can help.

Avoid alcohol and drugs. Some evidence indicates a link between drug use and schizophrenia. And it’s indisputable that substance abuse complicates schizophrenia treatment and worsens symptoms. If you have a substance abuse problem, seek help.

Eat a healthy, balanced diet. Eating regular, nutritious meals can help avoid psychosis and other schizophrenia symptoms brought on by substantial changes in blood sugar levels. Omega-3 fatty acids from fatty fish, fish oil, walnuts, and flaxseeds can help improve focus, banish fatigue, and your balance moods.

Do things that make you feel good about yourself. If you can’t get a job, find other activities that give you a sense of purpose and accomplishment. Pursue a passion, cultivate a new hobby, or reach out to help other people, animals, or causes important to you.

Tip 5: Put medication in its place

If you’ve been diagnosed with schizophrenia, you will almost certainly be offered antipsychotic medication. But it’s important to understand that medication is just one component of schizophrenia treatment.

Medication is not a cure for schizophrenia. Rather it works by reducing the psychotic symptoms of schizophrenia such as hallucinations, delusions, paranoia, and disordered thinking.

Medication only treats some of the symptoms of schizophrenia. Antipsychotic medication reduces psychotic symptoms, but is much less helpful for treating symptoms of schizophrenia such as social withdrawal, lack of motivation, and lack of emotional expressiveness.

You should not have to put up with disabling side effects. Schizophrenia medication can have very unpleasant—even disabling—side effects such as drowsiness, lack of energy, uncontrollable movements, weight gain, and sexual dysfunction. Your quality of life is important, so talk to your doctor if you’re bothered by side effects. Lowering the dose or switching medications may help.

Never reduce or stop medication on your own. Sudden or unsupervised dosage changes are dangerous, and can trigger a schizophrenia relapse or other complications. If you’re having trouble with your medication or feel like you don’t need to take it, talk to your doctor or someone else that you trust.

Finding the right medication for schizophrenia treatment

Since many people with schizophrenia require medication for extended periods of time—sometimes for life—the goal is to find a medication regimen that keeps the symptoms of the illness under control with the fewest side effects using the lowest possible dose. Antipsychotics affect people differently. It’s impossible to know ahead of time how helpful a particular antipsychotic will be, what dose will be most effective, or what side effects will occur.

Finding the right drug and dosage is a trial and error process. While medication should not be used at the expense of your quality of life, be patient with the process and discuss any concerns with your doctor.

It takes time for antipsychotic medications to take full effect. Some symptoms may respond to medication within a few days, while others take weeks or months. In general, most people see a significant improvement in their schizophrenia within six weeks—if not, your doctor may alter the dose or try another medication.

Types of medications used for schizophrenia treatment

The two main groups of medications used for the treatment of schizophrenia are the older or “typical” antipsychotic medications and the newer “atypical” antipsychotic medications.

The typical antipsychotics are the older medications and have a successful track record in treating hallucinations, paranoia, and other psychotic symptoms. However, they are prescribed less frequently today because of neurological side effects, known as extrapyramidal symptoms­, which include:

  1. Restlessness and pacing
  2. Extremely slow movements
  3. Tremors
  4. Painful muscle stiffness
  5. Temporary paralysis
  6. Muscle spasms (usually of the neck, eyes, or trunk)
  7. Changes in breathing and heart rate

Tardive dyskinesia in schizophrenia treatment

When typical antipsychotics are taken long-term for schizophrenia treatment, there is a risk of developing tardive dyskinesia. This can cause involuntary facial tics, usually of the tongue or mouth, or random, uncontrolled muscle movements of the hands, feet, limbs, or trunk. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the risk of developing tardive dyskinesia with the typical antipsychotics is 5 percent per year.

While newer drugs known as atypical antipsychotics produce fewer extrapyramidal symptoms, they have side effects that many find even more distressing. These include:

  1. Loss of motivation
  2. Drowsiness
  3. Feeling sedated
  4. Weight gain
  5. Sexual dysfunction
  6. Nervousness

If you’re bothered by the side effects of schizophrenia medication, your doctor may be able to minimize side effects by switching you to another medication or reducing your dose.

Common Schizophrenia Medications
Typical antipsychotics (1st generation) Atypical antipsychotics (2nd generation)

Tip 6: Explore community services

In many countries, government programs and community services can be a helpful part of schizophrenia treatment. To explore your options, make contact with local mental health facilities, social service agencies, support groups, and public housing authorities.

Job and social skills training

Vocational and social rehabilitation teaches life and job skills to people with schizophrenia so you can live more independently, find employment, handle finances, better communicate with others, and improve your living arrangements.

Medical coverage for schizophrenia treatment

Medical aid for schizophrenia treatment is a complex issue. Your doctor, social worker, or case manager may be able to offer advice. In the United States, you may qualify for one of two types of social security assistance:

Social Security Disability (SSD) is granted for people who have worked and contributed to the social security system. After one year this is referred to as Medicare funding.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is considered Medicaid funding and is available for low-income people ineligible for SSD.

Residential support services for schizophrenia

If an at-home living arrangement isn’t right for you,  residential facilities in your community may include:

Residential treatment facilities or 24-hour care homes – A more structured living environment for those requiring greater assistance or suffering an acute psychotic episode.

Transitional group home – An intensive program that helps individuals transition back into society and avoid relapse after a crisis or hospitalization.

Foster or boarding homes – A group living situation offering a degree of independence, while providing meals and other basic necessities.

Supervised apartments –Residents live alone or share an apartment, with staff members available on-site to provide assistance and support.

More help for schizophrenia

Resources and references

Schizophrenia treatment and recovery

Schizophrenia: An Information Guide – Covers common concerns about schizophrenia and its treatment, including treatment options and relapse prevention. (Centre for Addiction and Mental Health)

Schizophrenia: The Journey to Recovery – Schizophrenia handbook discusses diagnosis and treatment issues including hospitalization, independent living, and emergency planning. (Canadian Psychiatric Association)

Basic Facts About Schizophrenia (PDF) – This 40-page booklet covers the most frequently asked questions about schizophrenia, including treatment options. (British Columbia Schizophrenia Society)

Schizophrenia  – Overview of schizophrenia including self-help, treatment, and hopeful outlooks. (Royal College of Psychiatrists)

Antipsychotic medications and side effects

Antipsychotic Drugs for Schizophrenia and Bipolar Disorder: What You Should Know  – Reviews antipsychotic medications for schizophrenia. (Consumer Reports)

Mental Health Medications  – A thorough guide to the safe use of medications for mental illness, including the antipsychotics prescribed for schizophrenia. (National Institute of Mental Health)

Tardive Dyskinesia  – Learn about tardive dyskinesia, an involuntary movement disorder caused by long-term antipsychotic treatment. (National Alliance on Mental Illness)

Finding support for schizophrenia

Delving deeper into schizophrenia treatment and recovery

Practice Guidelines for the Treatment of Patients with Schizophrenia  – Current expert recommendations for both the acute and maintenance phase of schizophrenia treatment. (American Psychiatric Association)

Authors: Melinda Smith, M.A., and Jeanne Segal, Ph.D. Last updated: December 2016.