Many Patients With Schizophrenia Are Happy Despite Challenges

Many Patients With Schizophrenia Are Happy Despite ChallengesSchizophrenia can be an extremely challenging illness to live with, not only because of the symptoms of the illness, but also the significant social stigma that still surrounds the disorder. However, a recent study from the UC San Diego School of Medicine has found that the length and severity of their illness is not nearly as important to the happiness of schizophrenic patients as their psychological and social traits.

The UCSD study found that 37 percent of schizophrenia patients feel happy most of the time or all of the time, and that their happiness does not seem to be connected to how long they have been ill or how serious their symptoms have been.

The UCSD researchers surveyed a group of 72 schizophrenia outpatients as well as a control group of 64 people. All but nine of those in the patient group were taking anti-psychotic medication, and 59 percent were in facilities with assisted living. The mean age for both groups in the study was 50, and the ages ranged from 23 to 70.

As a whole, the individuals in the control group reported significantly higher levels of happiness than the group with schizophrenia. Eighty-three percent of the control subjects reported feeling happy most or all of the time, and none reported being rarely or never happy. In contrast, 15 percent of the subjects with schizophrenia said that they were rarely or never happy.

Nevertheless, the fact that nearly 40 percent of those with schizophrenia were just as happy as the healthy group was a significant finding. The researchers were also intrigued to learn that it was not only those patients who were fortunate enough to have mild symptoms, or who had only been dealing with the illness for a short time. Furthermore, they also found that living situations, physical health, education levels and other factors that were expected to contribute to happiness levels were not nearly as influential as the psychosocial factors.

These psychosocial factors included optimism, resilience, spirituality, attitude toward aging and control over emotions.

Positive Psychosocial Traits

The discovery that psychosocial traits influence the happiness of patients with schizophrenia is not just an interesting and somewhat unexpected result. It suggests that treatment may be able to significantly improve the quality of life for those with schizophrenia by treating not just their symptoms, but also their psychosocial characteristics.

Treatment programs for other mental illnesses, such as depression, already employ a similar approach, using mindfulness training and behavioral modification to help patients improve their optimism, resilience and psychological response to stress. Using similar techniques for patients with schizophrenia could mean that more patients—even those who have lived with severe symptoms—are able to achieve high levels of happiness.

While one of the long-term goals of schizophrenia research will continue to be the discovery of more effective treatments for the symptoms, this study suggests that doctors may be able to significantly improve their patients’ quality of life and happiness right away. Given that schizophrenia remains a challenging illness to treat with a variety of chronic symptoms that typically last a lifetime, this is potentially great news for those who are living with this disorder.

Lead author Dr. Dilip V. Jeste also believes that this study serves the important purpose of discrediting the idea that “happiness in schizophrenia is an oxymoron.”

Posted on September 19th, 2015

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