Roughly 1 in 100 people around the world are diagnosed with schizophrenia. While the recognition of this mental illness has been around since the early 1900s, have we been successful in treating the condition? No, in fact, some data suggest only one in seven people recover.
So despite the advances in mental health treatments, the number of people who recover from schizophrenia has not increased over time. Many experts in the mental health field suggest this lack of improvement is due to the language and concepts surrounding schizophrenia.
A New Language
The term schizophrenia poorly characterizes the actual features of the illness and gives the diagnosed an instant stigma to overcome. In other parts of the world, the term schizophrenia has been renamed. In Japan, for instance, they have renamed schizophrenia as “integration disorder”. We must follow suit and begin speaking of this mental health disorder using a different language.
In order to begin using a new language around schizophrenia, we must begin to form new concepts. It is now believed that psychosis, typically characterized by confused thoughts and delusions, should also exist along a continuum and in degrees, much like autism spectrum disorder. Schizophrenia would then be the severe end of the spectrum.
We must also begin to think differently, or rather understand more deeply, how people end up with the characteristics of this condition. New science is pointing to things like exposure to parasites, cannabis use, and childhood viral infections as potential pathways to specific mental disturbances.
And finally, we must stop thinking of this condition as a hopeless chronic brain disease. This idea excludes the many people who do have positive outcomes.
A New Treatment
Antipsychotic drugs are historically the first line of treatment for schizophrenia. But these medicines can have serious side effects, which is why many patients refuse to take them.
In recent years, many mental health professionals have begun to advocate for cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) as an adjunct to antipsychotic drugs. Recent studies, including meta-analysis, have shown some success with CBT’s ability to reduce psychotic symptoms. It is believed that CBT could help patients stop trying to fight or suppress hallucinations or stop engaging with the voices in their heads.
There will no doubt need to be further discussions about how we think about, speak about and treat schizophrenia. But we must all agree that those discussions need to happen.
In the meantime, if you or a loved one have been diagnosed with schizophrenia and would like to discuss CBT treatment options, please reach out to me.