Getting a new diagnosis is rarely good news — most people have a fair amount of anxiety and trepidation in learning they’ve got some sort of condition. Nowhere is this more true than with the diagnosis of schizophrenia. A schizophrenia diagnosis can be particularly scary because it is so misunderstood by so many people. It’s also one of the more rare but severe forms of mental illness. However, given that about 1 out of 100 people will be diagnosed with schizophrenia, it’s likely you’ve met or know someone with it.
But fear can be put to rest by asking questions and getting the facts you need to know in order to move forward with your life. Many times a newly-diagnosed person with schizophrenia may be in crisis, so these questions can also be asked by a family member or caregiver.
If your schizophrenia diagnosis did not come from a mental health professional — such as a psychologist or psychiatrist — your first order of business should be to see such a professional. While any medical professional can technically make a schizophrenia diagnosis, only a mental health professional is sufficiently trained in the complex science of diagnosis and treatment of this disorder.
Have you ruled out other conditions as the cause of these symptoms?
Just like many medical conditions, there’s no definitive set of tests that can be conducted to ensure a schizophrenia diagnosis is 100 percent accurate. Ensuring your doctor has ruled-out other possible conditions — or even an undiagnosed medical problem — helps to ensure the diagnosis has been carefully considered.
Is schizophrenia one of the disorders you regularly treat?
While it may seem disrespectful to ask a doctor this question, it’s important you’re seen by a professional who has deep experience in treating schizophrenia. While a specialist is ideal, a professional or doctor who’s regularly treated people with schizophrenia will also work just as well.
What kind of treatments are available for schizophrenia?
While traditionally doctors have focused on medications to treat this condition, a study published in 2015 demonstrates the importance of a holistic approach to the treatment of schizophrenia. A first-time psychotic episode is best managed by a team-based approach to treatment. This includes “recovery-oriented psychotherapy, low doses of antipsychotic medications, family education and support, case management, and work or education support, depending on the individual’s needs and preferences.”
Make sure that if your doctor doesn’t offer psychotherapy, you walk out of the office with a referral to a therapist who has seen patients with schizophrenia or specializes in the disorder.
How soon after I begin treatment should I start noticing a change in my symptoms?
Most modern schizophrenia treatment will work on combating and reducing the most serious symptoms of the disorder — the hallucinations and delusions. With a combined, holistic treatment approach that includes both medications and psychotherapy, people will generally start to feel some improvement in their symptoms in the first few days or weeks. If you don’t feel an improvement after the first few weeks, you should talk to your doctor about the lack of progress.
What are the most common side effects of the medications I’ve been prescribed?
It’s always a good idea to ask your doctor about the most significant side effects you’re likely to experience on the prescribed treatment. Also ask about ways you can help minimize such side effects. If side effects are too significant, talk to your doctor about changing your medication or dosing levels.
I take XYZ medication. Can I take it with the new medication prescribed?
Always tell your doctor all of the medications and supplements you’re currently taking before they prescribe you something new. Some medications do not interact well together, but your doctor won’t necessarily know about your other medications unless you specifically mention them.
What happens if initial treatment fails or doesn’t seem to be working very well?
Your doctor should be aware of and up-to-date on the latest drug treatment guidelines for treatment-resistant schizophrenia.
Is there any hope for someone with schizophrenia?
So many negative things have been written about people who have schizophrenia. But today, due to advances in the treatment and understanding of the disorder, a person with schizophrenia is no longer relegated to the fringes of society. Contrary to society’s perceptions, most people with schizophrenia who also get and maintain treatment lead pretty ordinary lives. You can have a job, live on your own, and even be in a relationship — there are no limits on what a person with schizophrenia can do.
Can I drink alcohol while on medication? Smoke pot? Do some other drug?
Many people with schizophrenia initially approach alcohol or drugs to try and self-medicate against the hallucinations or delusions they’re experiencing as a part of the disorder. It usually only works for a short period of time, and is often self-defeating in the long run. Most medications prescribed to treat schizophrenia don’t mix well with alcohol or drugs. Talk to your doctor about what kind of limits your specific medications might put on your drinking behavior or drug use.
How can I reach you in case of emergency?
Most doctors will readily provide emergency contact information in case of a crisis or other situation that needs immediate attention. Keep this information in a safe and readily-accessible location, and make your family members or caregiver aware of it in case you are somehow incapacitated.
Is schizophrenia ever cured? Or will I be on treatment for the rest of my life?
In most cases, most doctors treat schizophrenia similar to the way they would treat Type 2 diabetes — as a life-long condition needing constant care and treatment. While some people do indeed recover from schizophrenia without needing future treatment, the vast majority of people will benefit from long-lasting treatment throughout much of their life.
What should I tell my friends and family about my condition?
There is no single, right answer to this question, but it generally boils down to this: tell them whatever you’re comfortable sharing with them. Due to the nature of schizophrenia symptoms, it is often a good idea to identify at least one ally among your family or friends whom you feel comfortable in confiding the details of your condition. That way, there’s at least one person who knows what to do if suddenly decompensate or find yourself in a crisis situation.
What other kinds of help can I get within my local community?
Many local communities have specific programs setup to help people with schizophrenia or other types of serious mental illness. You or your caregiver can contact your local chapter of NAMI to find out what’s available in your community.