Treatment for schizophrenia
As upsetting as a diagnosis of schizophrenia can be, ignoring the problem won’t make it go away. Beginning treatment as soon as possible with an experienced mental health professional is crucial to your recovery. At the same time, it’s important not to buy into the stigma associated with schizophrenia or the myth that you can’t get better. A diagnosis of schizophrenia is not a life-sentence of ever-worsening symptoms and recurring hospitalizations. With the right treatment and self-help, many people with schizophrenia are able to regain normal functioning and even become symptom-free.
The most effective treatment strategy for schizophrenia involves a combination of medication, therapy, lifestyle changes, and social support.
Schizophrenia requires long-term treatment. Most people with schizophrenia need to continue treatment even when they’re feeling better, in order to prevent new episodes and stay symptom-free. Treatment can change over time, though. As your symptoms improve, your doctor may be able to lower the dosage or change your medication.
Medication for schizophrenia works by reducing psychotic symptoms such as hallucinations, delusions, paranoia, and disordered thinking. But it is not a cure for schizophrenia. It is also much less helpful for treating symptoms such as social withdrawal, lack of motivation, and lack of emotional expressiveness. Finding the right drug and dosage is also 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.
Therapy can help you improve coping and life skills, manage stress, address relationship issues, and improve communication. Group therapy can also connect you to others who are in a similar situation and are able to offer valuable insight into how they’ve overcome challenges.
Medication and therapy can take time to take full effect but there are still ways you can 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, and the more likely your doctor will be able to reduce your medication.
Schizophrenia: The 7 keys to self-help
Seek social support. Friends and family vital to helping you get the right treatment and keeping your symptoms under control. Regularly connecting with others face-to-face is also the most effective way to calm your nervous system and relieve stress. Stay involved with others by continuing your work or education. If that’s not possible, consider volunteering, joining a schizophrenia support group, or taking a class or joining a club to spend time with people who have common interests. As well as keeping you socially connected, it can help you feel good about yourself.
Manage stress. High levels of stress are believed to trigger schizophrenic episodes by increasing the body’s production of the hormone cortisol. As well as staying socially connected, there are plenty of steps you can take to reduce your stress levels. Try adopting a regular relaxation practice such as yoga, deep breathing, or meditation.
Get regular exercise. As well as all the emotional and physical benefits, exercise may help reduce symptoms of schizophrenia, improve your focus and energy, and help 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.
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 getting regular exercise and avoiding caffeine can help.
Avoid alcohol, drugs, and nicotine. Substance abuse complicates schizophrenia treatment and worsens symptoms. Even smoking cigarettes can interfere with the effectiveness of some schizophrenia medications. If you have a substance abuse problem, seek help.
Eat regular, nutritious meals to avoid symptoms exacerbated by changes in blood sugar levels. Omega-3 fatty acids from fatty fish, fish oil, walnuts, and flaxseeds can help improve focus, banish fatigue, and balance your moods.
While the causes of schizophrenia are not fully known, it seems to result from a mix of genetic and environmental factors.
While schizophrenia runs in families, about 60% of schizophrenics have no family members with the disorder. Furthermore, individuals who are genetically predisposed to schizophrenia don’t always develop the disease, which shows that biology is not destiny.
Studies suggest that inherited genes make a person vulnerable to schizophrenia. Environmental factors then act on this vulnerability to trigger the disorder.
More and more research points to stress—either during pregnancy or at a later stage of development—as being a major environmental factor. Stress-inducing factors could include:
- Prenatal exposure to a viral infection
- Low oxygen levels during birth (from prolonged labor or premature birth)
- Exposure to a virus during infancy
- Early parental loss or separation
- Physical or sexual abuse in childhood
Abnormal brain structure
In addition to abnormal brain chemistry, abnormalities in brain structure may also play a role in schizophrenia development. However, it is highly unlikely that schizophrenia is the result of any one problem in any one region of the brain.
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