If you have schizophrenia, there is much reason for hope. New antipsychotic drugs are being studied, and brain research is revealing more about the roots of this mental illness.
Is There a Cure?
While there is no known cure, it is possible to live a meaningful and happy life with schizophrenia. There are many effective treatments, best provided by a team. These include medication, psychotherapy, behavioral therapy, and social services, as well as tools to help you stay in school or keep working. Psychiatrists, primary care doctors, psychologists, social workers, and other mental health professionals will help you and your family find the treatments best for you. The earlier you get help, the better your outcome. With treatment, many recover to the point of living functional, rewarding lives in their communities.
How Does Schizophrenia Progress?
The first signs of schizophrenia usually appear between your late teens and mid-30s. According to one large analysis, the median age of the start of schizophrenia around the world was 25, meaning that half of the cases appeared before that age and half appeared later.
It may take a year or two before the vaguely strange early symptoms of schizophrenia – during what’s called a “prodromal phase” – turn serious enough to prompt a visit to a psychiatrist. In some people, the illness never goes beyond this point, but in most cases, it does.
The active phase of your schizophrenia may last several years or up to a decade. This can be an alarming period for you and your loved ones. But it’s often followed by a less stormy phase where your more intense symptoms, like hallucinations, stabilize. But such symptoms as loss of interest, trouble thinking, and relationship problems are more likely to linger.
Some people do recover “fully” from schizophrenia. Ten years after diagnosis:
- 50% of people with schizophrenia recover or improve to the point they can work and live on their own.
- 25% are better but need help from a strong support network to get by.
- 15% are not better. Most of these are in the hospital.
Antipsychotic medications work well. One study found that symptoms go away in about 70% of the people who get treatment. Their social occupational functions often improve within 6 months, although that score may not rise much after that. Your quality of life can get better most of the time.
Long-term numbers for 30 years after diagnosis are similar to those at the decade mark, except that more people get better and can live on their own. The lifetime risk of suicide for people with schizophrenia is about 5%, but getting treatment and taking medication seem to lower that risk.
Women seem to be better than men at staying in recovery long-term. Medications, cognitive therapy, and a strong support network can help you find ways to lead a successful life with your mental illness.
What Affects the Outcome?
If you or a loved one has schizophrenia, here are a couple of things that may affect success long-term:
- How well you did in society and at work before your schizophrenia began
- The amount of time from the start of symptoms to diagnosis and treatment. The sooner you’re treated for schizophrenia once symptoms begin, the more likely you are to improve and recover. But prodrome – the time between when symptoms begin and full psychosis starts – can be days, weeks, or even years. The average length of time between the start of psychosis and first treatment is 6 to 7 years.