How Families Can Cope with Schizophrenia
Medication and Job Counseling continued...
While it is foolish to "push" schizophrenic
individuals into high-pressure jobs for which they may not be ready, it is also
unwise to assume that schizophrenia amounts to a permanent disability. Many
individuals with this illness can rejoin the workforce, with appropriate
vocational rehabilitation and lots of emotional support.
In fact, a recent study by Dr. R.E. Drake and colleagues at
Dartmouth Medical School found that many patients get into the job market
faster than was once thought. Rather than getting "stalled" in the
usual sheltered workshops, the patients in this study were able to secure
competitive jobs quite rapidly, and hold these jobs. This was probably because
the patients received ongoing counseling, transportation assistance and help in
dealing with their employers.
The Right Kind of Therapy
The right kind of psychotherapy is also important.
Individuals with schizophrenia need to learn how to cope with the realities of
their illness. In this regard, family members can be a tremendous help. Dr.
M.I. Herz and colleagues at the University of Rochester conducted an 18-month
study in 1995 of 82 schizophrenic outpatients at high risk for relapse.
Forty-one patients were randomly assigned to "standard treatment" and
41 to "early-intervention treatment" (EIT). The latter consisted of
weekly group or individual sessions, in which coping skills were emphasized, as
well as reporting any changes in symptoms over the preceding week. Patients and
family members were also taught about schizophrenia and how to recognize very
early signs of a psychotic relapse.
When such signs were reported, more frequent office visits
and/or adjustment of medications would occur. Results showed that patients in
the standard treatment group were hospitalized for a total of 351 days, vs.
only 73 days for those in EIT. Thus, family members who are educated about
schizophrenia can make a big difference in the lives of their loved ones.
Finally, family members can join and support mental-health
advocacy groups like the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI), which
provides important services to both patients and their families.