Schizophrenia is among the most debilitating mental health disorders- so much so that there is still a lot of stigma around the diagnosis. The problem is stigma is especially harmful when it comes to this diagnosis.
Here’s why: about 75% of people with schizophrenia have months or years of subtle symptoms (called a predromal period) before full-blown psychosis occurs. Many individuals in this stage (or the people who love them) will hide, minimize, or explain away symptoms even after coming to awareness that something isn’t right. Much of this is because the social cost of this diagnosis is so high. Research in the last decade has shown that recognition and treatment of these symptoms in the earliest stages of schizophrenia is correlated with much, much better outcomes. When people start treatment during this phase, they can THRIVE and live lives far less interrupted by schizophrenia symptoms or the side effects of high doses of medication.
At the earliest stages of schizophrenia, therapy is highly effective in helping someone learn to adapt, recognize their symptoms, and use resources. Medication at this stage tends to be effective at very very low doses- meaning there are fewer side effects and less cost- and early research suggests that treatment at this stage may, for some people, arrest the development of symptoms- preventing psychotic episodes from ever developing.
For a disease that can be so destructive, this is A HUGE DEVELOPMENT, and this information needs to be spread. We all need to learn to
1. Recognize symptoms of early-stage schizophrenia, and
2. reduce the stigma that makes people wait until they are really sick to get care.
If you or someone you know is showing these signs, check-in with your primary care doctor and inquire about referrals to a RAISE program, an early intervention program active in the vast majority of US states. For a national directory of programs using the RAISE model or similar programming, download this PDF.