More than one-third of patients with schizophrenia report being happy all or most of the time, according to a new survey by researchers at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine.
In fact, happiness levels were found unrelated to the severity or length of their illness, to cognitive or physical function or to socioeconomic factors such as age and education.
Instead, the findings showed that happiness was mostly associated with the patients’ positive psychological and social attributes such as resilience, optimism, and lower perceived stress.
The researchers believe that these positive psychosocial traits could be taught through behavioral modification and mindfulness training techniques to other patients struggling with depression.
“People tend to think that happiness in schizophrenia is an oxymoron,” said senior author Dilip V. Jeste, M.D., distinguished professor of psychiatry and neurosciences.
“Without discounting the suffering this disease inflicts on people, our study shows that happiness is an attainable goal for at least some schizophrenia patients. This means we can help make these individuals’ lives happier.”
The study, published in the journal Schizophrenia Research, is based on a survey of 72 outpatients with schizophrenia in the San Diego area. All but nine of the patients were on at least one antipsychotic drug and 59 percent were residents in assisted-living facilities.
The control group included 64 healthy men and women, ages 23 to 70, who were part of an ongoing study on successful aging. These participants were not currently using alcohol or illicit substances and did not have diagnoses of dementia or other neurological problems.
The researchers investigated participants’ happiness levels during the previous week, asking them to rate statements such as “I was happy” and “I enjoyed life” on a scale from “never or rarely” to “all or most of the time.” Responses suggest that about 37 percent of schizophrenia patients were happy most or all of the time, compared with about 83 percent for those in the control group.
Approximately 15 percent of schizophrenia patients reported being never or rarely happy. By contrast, no one in the comparison group reported such a low level of happiness.
People’s self-reported happiness was then examined in relation to other factors, such as age, gender, education, living situation, medication status, anxiety levels, and other mental health metrics, as well as physical health, cognitive function, and a list of “psychosocial factors.” These included perceived stress, attitude toward aging, spirituality, optimism, resilience, and personal mastery.
“People with schizophrenia are clearly less happy than those in the general population at large, but this is not surprising,” said lead author Barton W. Palmer, Ph.D., professor in the UC San Diego Department of Psychiatry.
“What is impressive is that almost 40 percent of these patients are reporting happiness and that their happiness is associated with positive psychosocial attributes that can be potentially enhanced.”