Recovery from Schizophrenia? Yes, it's Possible!

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"If you live in a major city you have probably encountered a person who is dressed strangely, mumbling to himself, not making eye contact, and perhaps pacing back and forth or engaging in some other repetitive behavior. You may have sighed and felt a twinge of sympathy mixed with a sense of resignation, "this person is never going to get better" you think as you move quickly to the next place you need to be. Although the person in this example may not be diagnosed with Schizophrenia, a mental illness characterized by unusual perceptual experiences and strong beliefs that seem strange to others (e.g., being under surveillance), this person is likely suffering from some sort of serious mental illness.While our media is often filled with stigmatizing and inaccurate portrayals of people with mental illness, I"ve been happy to see that there has also been some recent press showing a more realistic and non-stigmatizing viewpoint. For example, the New York Times is currently running a series on living with serious mental illness.It may be shocking for you to hear that people with illnesses like Schizophrenia can recover. For the early part of my career, I was under the impression that most people diagnosed with serious mental illness had a pretty hopeless future. I only learned that this impression is false in 2006, when I stumbled across two studies on people released from the long-term units of two New England state hospitals. One state implemented programs based on a recovery model (more on that below) and the other received more standard treatment, typically a combination of medication and supportive therapy. The results were astounding! I remember sitting there shocked as I read the results from the study over and over again. In the study that just examined the outcomes of the people who received the recovery-oriented services, the majority (68%) of people did not show symptoms of schizophrenia at the 20-year follow-up, and nearly 50% did not show any symptoms of mental illness (Harding et al., 1987)! In the study that compared the people who received recovery-oriented services vs. those who received care as usual, people who received recovery-oriented care were more likely to live on their own (over 45% were living independently, i.e., not in boarding houses or half-way homes), were more likely to be/have been employed, and had fewer mental health symptoms (DeSisto et al., 1995). Results from groundbreaking studies like these provided the momentum to create a new approach to treatment called the recovery movement or recovery model."

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