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Help Is Available When Living With Schizophrenia

Mar 26, 2008
Many family members struggle to understand what it must be like living with schizophrenia. They aren't sure what's going on inside their relative's head. They often don't know how to communicate effectively, or what boundaries to set.

When is it ok to leave the person alone, and when is it a dangerous sign of schizophrenic isolation? What sort of treatment options are there? Some people are surprised to learn that millions of people afflicted with the illness lead seemingly normal lives, by taking medication, visiting a counselor and adjusting daily behavioral patterns.

For severe cases of schizophrenia, it may mean a lifetime on anti-psychotic drugs like Clozapine, Zyprexa, Olanzapine or Perphenazine. These drugs can help schizophrenia patients overcome debilitating delusions, auditory and visual hallucinations, paranoia and anxiety. An anti-depressant, like Lithium, has also been effective.

While some people may require hospitalization, many schizophrenic patients find living with the illness quite bearable with medication. Take, for example, 27-year-old Charlie Chastain, a schizophrenic who was recently profiled by CNN. He was first diagnosed around age 15 when he began hiding in his room all the time, feeling constant paranoia and anxiety.

Charlie has a college degree in psychology and works full-time at a mental health center in Clayton, Georgia. "I really think that if I went off my medication, I would end up in a psychiatric hospital," he relates.

However, the drugs can only help most patients so much. The ultimate goal for anyone suffering from a mental illness is the ability to live independently. Living with this illness is often difficult because listlessness, depression and social isolation block normalcy. Duke University researchers found that only 10% of the 1,500 schizophrenia patients surveyed held a job.

An American Psychiatry Association study of 25 women living with schizophrenia found that they lived as "invisible women," largely marginalized by their mental illness and suffered limited social contacts. The socio-interpersonal effects of people with mental illness is rarely studied or included in health insurance plans.

Most importantly, people living with schizophrenia require help through social support systems of friends and family. It is important for the sufferers to know that it is not their fault, but they should continue on a lifelong path of living with the illness. Often times, people on medication will make the rash decision to stop taking it and will then relapse or feel severely depressed.

Behavioral monitoring is paramount in these cases and it's often up to close family and friends to watch out for abnormal behavior. Sometimes (in really severe cases) relatives are asked to keep records of what schizophrenia drug treatments are administered, what the effects are and how the patient reacts.
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