Coordinated by the World Health Organization and published in 2001, The International Study of Schizophrenia (ISoS) was a long-term follow-up study of 1633 individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia around the world. The striking difference in course and outcomes was noted; a half of those available for follow-up had a favourable outcome and 16% had a delayed recovery after an early unremitting course. More usually, the course in the first two years predicted the long-term course. Early social intervention was also related to a better outcome. The findings were held as important in moving patients, carers and clinicians away from the prevalent belief of the chronic nature of the condition. A review of major longitudinal studies in North America noted this variation in outcomes, although outcome was on average worse than for other psychotic and psychiatric disorders. A moderate number of patients with schizophrenia were seen to remit and remain well; the review raised the question that some may not require maintenance medication.
A clinical study using strict recovery criteria (concurrent remission of positive and negative symptoms and adequate social and vocational functioning continuously for two years) found a recovery rate of 14% within the first five years. A 5-year community study found that 62% showed overall improvement on a composite measure of clinical and functional outcomes.
|John Nash, a US mathematician, began showing signs of paranoid schizophrenia during his college years. Despite having stopped taking his prescribed medication, Nash continued his studies and was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1994. His life was depicted in the 2001 film A Beautiful Mind. |
World Health Organization studies have noted that individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia have much better long-term outcomes in developing countries (India, Colombia and Nigeria) than in developed countries (United States, United Kingdom, Ireland, Denmark, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Japan, and Russia), despite antipsychotic drugs not being widely available.
Rates are not always comparable across studies because exact definitions of remission and recovery have not been widely established. A "Remission in Schizophrenia Working Group" has proposed standardized remission criteria involving "improvements in core signs and symptoms to the extent that any remaining symptoms are of such low intensity that they no longer interfere significantly with behavior and are below the threshold typically utilized in justifying an initial diagnosis of schizophrenia". Standardized recovery criteria have also been proposed by a number of different researchers, with the stated DSM definitions of a "complete return to premorbid levels of functioning” or "complete return to full functioning" seen as inadequate, impossible to measure, incompatible with the variability in how society defines normal psychosocial functioning, and contributing to self-fulfilling pessimism and stigma. Some mental health professionals may have quite different basic perceptions and concepts of recovery than individuals with the diagnosis, including those in the consumer/survivor movement. One notable limitation of nearly all the research criteria is failure to address the person's own evaluations and feelings about their life. Schizophrenia and recovery often involve a continuing loss of self-esteem, alienation from friends and family, interruption of school and career, and social stigma, "experiences that cannot just be reversed or forgotten". An increasingly influential model defines recovery as a process, similar to being "in recovery" from drug and alcohol problems, and emphasizes a personal journey involving factors such as hope, choice, empowerment, social inclusion and achievement.
Several factors have been associated with a better overall prognosis: Being female, rapid (vs. insidious) onset of symptoms, older age of first episode, predominantly positive (rather than negative) symptoms, presence of mood symptoms, and good pre-illness functioning. The strengths and internal resources of the individual concerned, such as determination or psychological resilience, have also been associated with better prognosis. The attitude and level of support from people in the individual's life can have a significant impact; research framed in terms of the negative aspects of this - the level of critical comments, hostility, and intrusive or controlling attitudes, termed high 'Expressed emotion' - has consistently indicated links to relapse. Most research on predictive factors is correlational in nature, however, and a clear cause-and-effect relationship is often difficult to establish.
In a study of over 168,000 Swedish citizens undergoing psychiatric treatment, schizophrenia was associated with an average life expectancy of approximately 80–85% of that of the general population; women were found to have a slightly better life expectancy than men, and a diagnosis of schizophrenia was associated with an overall better life expectancy than substance abuse, personality disorder, heart attack and stroke. Other identified factors include smoking, poor diet, little exercise and the negative health effects of psychiatric drugs.
There is a higher than average suicide rate associated with schizophrenia. This has been cited at 10%, but a more recent analysis of studies and statistics revises the estimate at 4.9%, most often occurring in the period following onset or first hospital admission. Several times more attempt suicide. There are a variety of reasons and risk factors.
The relationship between violent acts and schizophrenia is a contentious topic. Current research indicates that the percentage of people with schizophrenia who commit violent acts is higher than the percentage of people without any disorder, but lower than is found for disorders such as alcoholism, and the difference is reduced or not found in same-neighbourhood comparisons when related factors are taken into account, notably sociodemographic variables and substance misuse. Studies have indicated that 5% to 10% of those charged with murder in Western countries have a schizophrenia spectrum disorder.
The occurrence of psychosis in schizophrenia has sometimes been linked to a higher risk of violent acts. Findings on the specific role of delusions or hallucinations have been inconsistent, but have focused on delusional jealousy, perception of threat and command hallucinations. It has been proposed that a certain type of individual with schizophrenia may be most likely to offend, characterized by a history of educational difficulties, low IQ, conduct disorder, early-onset substance misuse and offending prior to diagnosis.
Individuals with a diagnosis of schizophrenia are often the victims of violent crime - at least 14 times more often than they are perpetrators. Another consistent finding is a link to substance misuse, particularly alcohol, among the minority who commit violent acts. Violence by or against individuals with schizophrenia typically occurs in the context of complex social interactions within a family setting, and is also an issue in clinical services and in the wider community.
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