Haven’t all families in the maelstrom heard the mental illness maxim? For those with schizophrenia, the foundation of recovery rests first on the cornerstone of… “medications compliance.” Or maybe we’ve heard that other mental illness manta: Like diabetes, schizophrenia requires a lifelong course of medication. It’s almost as if we know these truths to be self-evident. Which they are, right?…
Well, maybe not. Recent (2007) research supported by the National Institute of Mental Health suggests the opposite. In a 15-year longitudinal follow-up study (entitled “Factors Involved in Outcome and Recovery in Outcome and Recovery in Schizophrenia Patients Not on Antipsychotic Medications: A 15-Year Multifollow-up Study“), Martin Harrow and Thomas H. Jobe researched whether unmedicated individuals with schizophrenia can function as well as those on medication. Their study included 64 individuals with SZ who were were initially assessed upon hospitalization, and then followed up 5 times over 15 years. At each follow-up, the individuals were compared on symptoms and global outcome.
What did Harrow and Jobe discover? “A larger percent of schizophrenia patients not on antipsychotics showed periods of recovery and better global functioning.” What else?
“…there were large, significant differences in global functioning between patients on medications and patients not on medications at 4 of the 5 follow-ups…”
“The data… show that at the 10 year follow-ups, 79% of the patients with schizophrenia on antipsychotics had psychotic activity, whereas 23% of those not on any medication had psychotic activity…“
“Those who were unmedicated at the 15 year follow-ups had previously experienced significantly more periods of recovery than those on antipsychotic medications at the 15 year follow-ups.”
The researchers attribute these results in part to individual factors among a self-selecting subgroup of those investigated. “The results,” they say, “suggest that the subgroup of schizophrenia patients not on medications was different in terms of being a self-selected group having better earlier prognostic and developmental potential.” But they admit that such characteristics could not be determined in advance at the beginning of the 15 year study.
For families with loved ones having SZ, their conclusions are compelling, not to say stunning. Despite all we are led to believe by providers, experts, and prevailing social attitudes, the opposite may be true. The use of antipsychotic medications, while perhaps helpful in the short-term, may be harmful in the long-term.