Living With Schizophrenia
Over the years, schizophrenia—a severe brain disorder, in which people interpret reality abnormally—has been blamed as the cause for different crimes, including recent mass shootings.
Not all people with schizophrenia are a threat to society, according to Dr. Stephen Marder, psychiatrist and schizophrenia expert at UCLA and the director of the VISN 22 MIRECC for the Department of Veteran Affairs. In fact, Dr. Marder says that many are high-functioning individuals and professionals.
"There are many people with schizophrenia who are actually working or going to school than there are those on the street... It's more common for people with schizophrenia to have a burden from their illness, but trying to make the most of their lives."
In a recent study, Dr. Marder observed high-functioning people with schizophrenia to find out how they worked through the symptoms their illness. Hallucinating and being in over-stimulating environments were among the common problems they dealt with.
“Those people had learned during the course of their lives how to monitor themselves to when they began having these distortions, and how to kind of manage them so that they could continue in their lives,” says Dr. Marder. “Some of them found, that during their working life, they needed a quite place.”
On a recent Ted Talk, Eleanor Longden, a young woman with schizophrenia, said that she learned from the voices she heard.
“I think what this person learned is that when an individual hallucinates—which is a surprisingly common experience for people—that what they’re actually doing is interpreting their own thoughts as a sound,” says Dr. Marder. “These people learned to accept that, and they actually gather information.”
Support from family and friends, as well as staying on proper medication, is important for those with schizophrenia, according to Dr. Marder.
“Educating families about schizophrenia and its treatment is one of the most effective methods for improving outcomes. It’s been shown in countless studies that educating families leads to better long-term outcomes,” says Dr. Marder. “Staying on medications can be very important. People at the onset of schizophrenia are the group that probably have the greatest vulnerability to suicide attempts.”
“Whereas almost everyone with the illness has access to medications, which for many patients are an essential ingredient in order for them to reach their goals, many are just unable to access these other kinds of psychosocial treatments.”
Dr. Marder says that recovery is the individual’s ability to live the kind of life that he or she wants to live. “Recovery to me, and I think to many people in the recovery movement, doesn’t mean that the person no longer has to have the burden of the illness, but that they’re learning to meet their own personal goals despite having an illness."
Roughly 2.5 million Americans have schizophrenia. While researchers are unable to pinpoint what causes it, a combination of genetics and environment contribute to its development, according to the Mayo Clinic.