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Schizophrenia Survey Analysis: Living with Schizophrenia

No single symptom signals schizophrenia. Any one of its symptoms also can be found in other mental illnesses, such as bipolar disorder or Alzheimer's disease. Observed over time, however, there are three types of symptoms that, in combination, may result in its diagnosis.

Positive, or "psychotic," symptoms include delusions and hallucinations. These are symptoms that occur because a person "loses touch with reality" in certain situations. Negative symptoms include emotional flatness or lack of expression, an inability to start or finish activities, and lack of pleasure or interest in life. "Negative" does not refer to a person's attitude, but a lack of characteristics that should exist. The symptoms can resemble those of depression. Cognitive symptoms involve impairment of "thinking" processes, such as prioritizing tasks, organizing thoughts, and certain kinds of memory functions. For more medically reviewed information about schizophrenia, please visit www.nami.org/schizophrenia.

Diagnosis takes time. In clinical practice, symptoms generally need to be followed for at least six months. But neither time nor the illness wait for a diagnosis. The survey found the following:

Schizophrenia is a disease that usually strikes at the threshold of adulthood--when young men and women in their teens and 20s are in school, entering the workforce, beginning families, or making other formative choices.

It has life-changing consequences, which can include lost or damaged relationships, disability, academic failure, unemployment, dependency, isolation, physical illnesses, jail or prison, and homelessness.

The survey offers evidence of diminished social and economic prospects even when a person receives treatment:

The survey responses provide a sketch of what it is like to live with schizophrenia, but they reflect the experience of only a special population: 95% of individuals with schizophrenia who participated in the survey report that they are receiving treatment. In contrast, among the total population of people living with serious mental illnesses like schizophrenia, approximately two-thirds live without any treatment. For them, life is even harder and grimmer.

Approximately 60% of people with schizophrenia die prematurely from heart disease, diabetes, or other conditions. This is a startling fact when considered alongside the following survey findings:

Overall, people who live with the illness prioritize medical and social supports:

  • Nearly all say that access to a psychiatrist (95%) and medication and treatment (96%) are most helpful to improving their condition. A vast majority (93%) also believe that more effective medications and treatment, as well as better private health insurance (85%), would help improve their condition.
  • Beyond these, access to crisis care (92%), hospital beds (83%), peer support groups (85%), assertive community treatment (77%), and care managers (76%) also are seen as helpful.
  • A large majority believe that access to housing (88%), having a job (76%), and transportation (72%) would help improve their condition.

These are supports and services that can help a person overcome the symptoms and consequences of schizophrenia. They also facilitate access to treatments for other health conditions. They reflect needs that support individual dignity.

How much is society willing to pay to improve the public health system to help 2 million Americans who become ill through no fault of their own? Inevitably, potential support is related to public attitudes.

Continue to Public Attitudes »

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