Treating Schizophrenia

December 5, 2014 • Volume 24, Issue 43
Are antipsychotic drugs the best treatment?
By Sarah Glazer


Aaron Divita (Getty Images/The Washington Post/Leah Nash)
Sixteen-year-old Aaron Divita participates in a program in Eugene, Ore., for young people considered at risk of developing schizophrenia. Several programs around the country are attempting to identify and treat teenagers with early warning signs — like hearing voices — that might put them at risk for schizophrenia even before they've experienced a psychotic break. (Getty Images/The Washington Post/Leah Nash)

Schizophrenia, a mental disorder that makes it difficult to distinguish reality from unreality, afflicts about 1 percent of the adult population, with symptoms typically emerging in adolescence or young adulthood. A growing number of experts believe schizophrenia is not a single disease, but rather a variety of disorders that manifest themselves in different ways. While many with the diagnosis hear voices, that experience lies on a continuum, from hearing the benign words of a deceased relative to enduring terrifying rants urging self-harm. Recent studies have sparked debate over whether psychiatric drugs taken over many years — today's mainstream treatment — may actually make it harder for people to cope with daily life and work. In addition, understanding voices as representations of past trauma is more helpful than trying to suppress them with drugs, some voice-hearers contend. Meanwhile, experts are divided over whether states should mandate involuntary outpatient treatment for those who need treatment but resist it.

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