Can We Make People With Severe Schizophrenia Happier?

By
Photo: Courtesy of UC San Diego School of Medicine

Schizophrenia, especially in its more severe forms, robs people of their personality in a fundamental way by inflicting delusions, hallucinations, and crushing paranoia, often putting severe strain on both sufferers and their loved ones. The results of a new study, though, suggest that it doesn't always have to rob patients of their happiness, and that there may be ways to better help those with schizophrenia manage their mood, regardless of the severity of their symptoms.

For the study, which was led by Dr. Dilip V. Jeste, a professor of psychiatry and neurosciences at UCSD, and published online in Schizophrenia Research, the researchers surveyed a group of 72 outpatient schizophrenia sufferers, asking them to rate their happiness in the previous week, and compared their responses to those from a separate group of 64 healthy adults taking part in a study on successful aging.

Not surprisingly, members of the group without schizophrenia reported being happier — 83 percent said they were happy all or most of the time, as compared to 37 percent in the group of schizophrenia sufferers.

Still, though — 37 percent isn't a low number for such a serious disorder. And, more important, there didn't seem to be a link between severity of the illness and happiness.

As the press release explains:

Of clinical significance in terms of helping people with mental illness, the patients' happiness was unrelated to the severity or duration of their illness, to cognitive or physical function or to socioeconomic factors such as age and education, which among healthy adults have been linked to a greater sense of well-being.

Instead, the study shows that happiness among those with chronic forms of schizophrenia is associated with positive psychological and social attributes such as resilience, optimism and lower perceived stress.

The researchers believe that these positive psychosocial attributes could be taught through behavioral modification and mindfulness training techniques.

This wasn't a totally random group of schizophrenia sufferers, of course, since it specifically excluded those who had been institutionalized as a result of the disease, which is a group one would probably expect to not be particularly happy. But still, the idea that even people with severe schizophrenia symptoms can learn skills to ameliorate the disease's toll on their mood is important.