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For decades, mental health professionals have heavily emphasized medication in the fight against schizophrenia symptoms. A 2015 study and a follow-up study in 2017 says we should turn that approach around: Focusing more on therapy than on medication yields better results.
That’s good news for the hundreds of thousands of people experiencing negative side effects from their schizophrenia medication. While the drugs are effective in suppressing hallucinations and delusions, the success often comes with weight gain, numbness, tremors, and more.
For the study, funded by the U.S. government, researchers assigned 404 recently diagnosed schizophrenics to one of two treatment groups: The first received treatment as usual, and the second received a package treatment including medication but emphasizing therapeutic strategies (life choices advice, one-on-one talk therapy, and family education).
After two years, patients on the second treatment plan had stuck with their treatment longer (a chronic problem for those afflicted with schizophrenia), had experienced greater symptom relief, and were participating more in school and work than those on the medication-heavy plan.
In 2017, at the 2-year follow up of the study, the second group ended up receiving less medication than those in traditional treatment regiments received!
The results of this study ring true to me because in my practice I see that medications are definitely useful, but the human contact seems to mean the most to my patients. Many of my patients have trouble making and maintaining friendships. With therapy, they learn social and coping skills that help them build caring friendships. Combining the two aspects of care works the best; I would never focus ONLY on meds. That is just poor care.
One other important note from the study: Early intervention is crucial. For people with schizophrenia, a first psychotic episode usually occurs during their late teens or twenties. Currently, the average time between this first episode and receipt of medical care is about a year and a half. Study participants who received care within less than a year and a half of the first episode fared significantly better than those who did not.
In short: get help for schizophrenia, as soon as you can! It's going to take time, therapy, medication and human connection to get you back on your feet.