Schizophrenia is a mental disorder currently affecting a little more than 1% of the worldwide population. Those who suffer from it often have difficulty discerning between reality and fantasy. They often hallucinate and withdraw themselves from social interactions. Their thoughts are frequently disordered and illogical. Those who live with the disorder face the risk of experiencing schizophrenic episodes which may cause them to harm themselves or others. Schizophrenics are much more likely to attempt suicide than those in the general population. Despite popular belief, schizophrenics are not often violent against others. Most often, they are withdrawn and prefer solitude. There currently is no cure for any of the varying types of schizophrenic disorders. However, many schizophrenics are able to live fairly independent lives depending upon the severity of their symptoms. With medication, most schizophrenics are able to have some control over the disorder.
It is estimated that approximately 28% of schizophrenics live independently, 20% live in group homes, and about 25% live with family members. Sadly, the remaining 27% percent are either homeless, living in jails or prisons, or living in hospitals or nursing homes. Many researchers believe that half of all persons with severe psychiatric illnesses, including schizophrenic disorders, are left untreated. Reasons for this may include the general public’s ignorance about where to seek help and the high cost of treatment. Also, some mentally ill people believe that they can solve the problem on their own without seeking medical treatment. One thing to remember about schizophrenia is that there is no cure for the disorder. Those affected by it must endure a life-long battle. Living independently with the disease does not mean living in complete isolation and control over one’s well-being. Schizophrenics must be surrounded by a community that they can trust.
Subtypes of Schizophrenia
There are varying forms and levels associated with schizophrenia. Regardless of the type and level, if left untreated, the person suffering from any form of schizophrenia greatly reduces their chance to cope with the disorder and live independently within society.
One of the most well-known types of schizophrenia is paranoid schizophrenia. Paranoid schizophrenics often hallucinate and have deluded thoughts. They can quickly become hostile if they feel they are being threatened or conspired against.
Disorganized schizophrenics have significant trouble performing daily activities. They may neglect themselves physically by not bathing or getting dressed. They also may be incomprehensible in their speech patterns.
Catatonic schizophrenics often display disturbed movements. They sometimes repetitively perform the same futile movements. Repetitive movement is also seen frequently in those with obsessive compulsive disorder. Catatonic schizophrenics may sometimes make unusual facial movements or expressions and unusual movement of their limbs, which can be mistaken for dyskinesia. Sometimes catatonic schizophrenics mimic body movements of others or obsessively repeat what others say. These behaviors are also seen in Tourette syndrome.
Patients are said to display the residual subtype of schizophrenia when symptoms are no longer prominent. The patient may still show some signs of the illness, but the symptoms have declined in comparison to the severest forms of schizophrenia.
Undifferentiated schizophrenics show symptoms that are not easily categorized. The patient may exhibit symptoms of all of the other subtypes of schizophrenia with no discernable pattern. For example, the undifferentiated variety may sometimes show signs of paranoia, but at other times they may show stronger signs of being catatonic.
How to Live Independently with Schizophrenia
Regular visits to mental health professionals, taking prescribed meds on time, every time, and joining a support group are the three most important things a schizophrenic should do to help control their disorder. Psychiatrists are able to prescribe new meds that may combat symptoms more effectively. Psychologists and counselors can evaluate how well patients are adapting to their environment and make recommendations for non-medicinal treatment. Joining a group therapy session or support group provides a community for schizophrenics to lean on and learn from. Interacting with a community of schizophrenics will provide a network of people that understand symptoms and are able to provide suggestions if and when the disorder spirals out of control. Family members of schizophrenics should also stay involved in the lives of their mentally ill loved ones. Family members are familiar with the patient and are able to tell when something is wrong.
Risks of Living Independently with Schizophrenia
Schizophrenics sometimes stop taking their medication because of the medication’s side effects. Side effects often include loss of sex drive, restlessness, muscle spasms, blurred vision, fatigue and weight gain. When a schizophrenic stops taking their meds, symptoms return. Many people have been known to commit suicide, become excessively paranoid, and hurt themselves and others, especially when they are off of their medication. Schizophrenics should contact a doctor if feeling depressed, helpless, suicidal, delusional, or if they are having hallucinations. However, schizophrenics cannot tell when they are hallucinating or delusional. To a schizophrenic, their hallucinations and deluded thoughts are real.
Alternatives to Independent Living
There are many state funded group homes for people with schizophrenia. Local community resource centers and mental health centers can provide more information on where to seek help. For those diagnosed with the disorder, contact a psychiatrist or health care professional before making the decision to live independently. Ask a health care professional to give advice about which type of living arrangement is recommended. Each case is unique, and each patient is different. The severity of the disorder often varies as well. For example, a severely disorganized schizophrenic may not be able to live alone. They may have trouble performing basic tasks, such as bathing and personal grooming.
Most schizophrenics are diagnosed in late childhood and early adulthood. It is very rare for people to begin showing symptoms after the age of forty. With the use of anti-psychotic meds, most patients are able to reduce the number of their psychotic episodes and increase their chances of living independently.
John Forbes Nash
John Nash, renowned mathematician and 1994 winner of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences, battled paranoid schizophrenia for over 30 years. After extensive hospital stays, taking the prescribed medications, and even undergoing shock therapy, John claimed that he began to think and behave much more rationally and that he was able to have more control over the sickness. The book and movie “A Beautiful Mind” is based upon John’s life.
One of the most astounding jazz players and musical composers of the past 3 decades, Tom Harrell has struggled with paranoid schizophrenia since young adulthood. Harrell is able to overcome this devastating disorder with a combination of medicine and his music, which serves as an extraordinary therapy for him. In addition, the support of his wife, Angela, is a constant factor to his ability to live independently with schizophrenia.
High achiever and renowned Broadway star Meera Popkin was diagnosed with mild schizophrenia during her performance as Miss Saigon in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s award winning musical “Cats.” After a 10 year struggle with the disorder, Meera is now married and enjoying watching her baby girl grow up. While still taking low doses of medication, her schizophrenia is no longer discernable.
The Villa Orlando and Pasadena Villa’s Smoky Mountain Lodge are adult intensive psychiatric residential treatment centers for clients with serious mental illnesses. We also provide other individualized therapy programs, step-down residential programs, and less intensive mental health services, such as Community Residential Homes, Supportive Housing, Day Treatment Programs and Life Skills training. If you or someone you know may need counseling on mental health services, please contact us. Please call us at 877-845-5235 for more information.