“Schizophrenic” is one of those words we tend to toss around carelessly, without regard for the fact that it refers to a usually debilitating condition that affects one in 100 people in the United States, according to the NIH.
Schizophrenia is a mental illness that interferes with the way people interact with others and even the way they process their own thoughts. Because its actual cause is unknown (though genetics clearly play a role), no cure has been developed. Most patients are treated with a combination of antipsychotic drugs (such as thorazine) and psychosocial therapies.
A report on a recent six-month pilot study of a new approach to treating people with schizophrenia offers some hope — even as it underscores the difficulties in treating the condition.
In the “Advancing Standards of Care for People with Schizophrenia" study, conducted by the National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare, 568 people (whose mean age was about 45) took part in a treatment program at 10 clinics across the United States. Working in close doctor-patient relationships, the patients — most of whom had already undergone years of other treatments — received two forms of therapy, one that helped them learn to communicate better with others, including talking with doctors and other people about their disease, and another that provided a concrete means of assessing their progress.
The program showed signs of success: Overall, participants’ score on a measure of ability to function in daily life rose a few points over six months, from 37.76 to 41.07. The study found “statistically significant gain” in the areas of “communications, interaction with one’s social network, and coping skills.” The National Council notes that whereas most treatments for schizophrenia aim to treat outward symptoms, few resources are available to help people with the condition learn to function better in every day life and communicate more clearly with others. So those are important successes to have achieved.
At the same time, the study reported an attrition rate of 48 percent. Think of that: Half the people enrolled in the trial didn’t finish it. The study notes that that’s not unusual for schizophrenia treatment programs and opts still to present the findings as hopeful. The report suggests that the pilot program, now tested, is ripe for replication at other treatment centers.
In the meantime, one of the best things for people with schizophrenia is for the people around them to be aware of the condition and its manifestations. To that end, it might be worth tuning in to the Lifetime cable channel this Saturday at 8 p.m. ET to watch a movie called “Of Two Minds.” It's about a woman — played by Kristin Davis (who played Charlotte in the HBO show “Sex and the City”) — who finds herself charged with caring for her sister (played by Tammy Blanchard), who has schizophrenia. The screenplay is by Richard Friedenberg, whose 1986 TV movie “Promise,” also about living with schizophrenia, won many awards and accolades.