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Schizophrenia is a long-term illness. It takes at least six
months of symptoms to be diagnosed and treatment is recommended
for 2–5 years.
While your illness is being treated, life continues. How can
you live the best life you can with schizophrenia?
Doctors can provide medication. They can give you
recreational activities and advice. But the desire to get
better has to come from you
Deciding what recovery means to you
Recovery is a word that means different things to different
people. What does it mean to say you’ve recovered from an
Your doctors might say you’ve recovered when your symptoms
reduce by a certain amount over a certain time. Other people
might say that if you can take part in life again — if you can
get and keep a job, have meaningful relationships and generally
do the everyday things you want to do — that means you’ve
recovered. Or maybe it’s just managing your symptoms so you can
do some basic tasks.
Your idea of recovery is personal, and it can change over time.
Talk to your doctors, your family and friends and the other
important people in your life, about how they picture your
recovery. Their advice can help you decide your short-term and
longer-term goals for recovery.
The outlook for people with schizophrenia is better than many
realise, especially when you get consistent treatment that
starts as early as possible after symptoms are diagnosed. Many
people are able to live a fulfilling life with a diagnosis of
Managing symptoms of schizophrenia
Self-advocacy is about learning to stand up for yourself. It
is about building your confidence and self-esteem. It takes
Sticking with treatment
Your diagnosis and treatment could change as you and your
treating mental health professionals learn more about the form
your illness is taking.
While this can be leave you feeling insecure, it’s important
that you stick with your treatment, even if you’re frustrated.
Nothing helps with schizophrenia more than uninterrupted,
Also, people who start taking their medication and feel their
symptoms reduce sometimes believe they’re well enough to stop
treatment. But your illness is still there, and stopping
medication too soon can make symptoms return. It’s called the
‘wellness trap’. To avoid it, stick with treatment.
Schizophrenia can interrupt your work or study life, your
relationships and your ability to engage with life in general.
If you experience schizophrenia for the first time when you’re
young, it can stop you getting started with those things.
So an important part of managing life with schizophrenia is
help getting those things going again — work or study,
relationships, your capacity to do things that are meaningful
to you. This is called functional recovery.
Studies have shown that an early functional recovery gives you
a better chance of longterm recovery than just treating
symptoms alone. So getting back on track with work, study,
housing, relationships and health is just as important, perhaps
even more so, than eliminating positive symptoms like delusions
back to work
For years I found it difficult to communicate. But working
with customers means my confidence has really soared
Looking after your physical health
Schizophrenia takes a toll on your physical health as well as
your mental health. It can sap your energy, confidence and
motivation — you either feel less capable of keeping up your
physical health or lose the desire to try.
Another major influence on your physical health is the
side-effects of antipsychotic medication. Newer antipsychotic
medications have fewer side-effects, but weight gain is one
that is still very common.
People being treated for schizophrenia are much more likely
than the general population to be overweight, have high blood
pressure and develop diabetes.
They’re also more likely to smoke, drink too much and use
recreational drugs, which can have a negative effect on your
mental and physical health.
If you’re struggling with these problems, you may hear your
doctor use the term metabolic syndrome. It
means you have some combination of:
- weight gain around the abdomen
- high blood pressure
- low levels of the good cholesterol
- high blood glucose levels.
Metabolic syndrome is common in anyone with a sedentary
lifestyle and unhealthy diet, but it’s especially common in
people with schizophrenia.
There is support to help you get healthy and stay healthy.
I was sick of being unfit and unwell and sitting on the
couch. I decided to have a go, and if it didn’t work, the
worst that could happen was being back on the couch
There are many government and community-run support providers
available in Australia. These include:
- training programs to help with social skills and day-to-day
- outreach programs that can link you with a caseworker,
supported employment, study or housing
- recreation or social programs.
These types of programs often employ peer support workers –
people with a lived experience of mental illness who have
undertaken training in mental health.
Organisations that can connect you with community support
I used to exist, but now I have a life
Coping with stigma
You have a right to be treated with the same dignity, respect
and care as everyone else.
Sadly, for people living with mental illnesses, that doesn’t
always happen. There’s a lot of ignorance about mental illness
in our society. Words like ‘psychotic’ and ‘schizophrenia’ are
often used wrongly to refer to violence or danger. Some people
react fearfully or judgmentally when they learn a person has a
The situation is improving, but it’s still very common for
people with mental illness to encounter stigma, which can cause
problems with relationships, employment and your own
self-esteem. For that reason, some people choose carefully who
they tell about their illness.
How do you cope? You can’t single-handedly fix the problem of
mental health stigma, but there are two ways you can strengthen
yourself against its effects:
Knowledge is power. Trustworthy,
evidence-based sources of information about schizophrenia can
give you a strong sense of what the illness really is, and what
it isn’t. When you’re informed, you can spot stigma and wrong
information and call it out for what it is.
Your illness doesn’t have to isolate you.
There are a lot of people out there going through something
very similar, and places exist for you to meet them, tell your
story and hear theirs. The SANE Forums provide a safe,
anonymous, respectful place for people to share their
experiences and make connections. It’s available 24/7 and
moderated by mental health professionals.
There’s no better protection against stigma than feeling like
you belong to a community, and that’s what the Forums are for.
Planning for the future
Relapse prevention plan
A relapse is when, after you recover from an episode of
psychosis, your symptoms return and you experience another
A relapse prevention plan is a powerful tool for staying well
and avoiding a worsening of your illness. Making a plan
identifying your triggers: what events or
situations could set your symptoms off?
identifying your warning signs: what changes
in your thinking, emotions and behaviour signal the early
signs of psychosis?
planning responses: what will you do to cope
or seek help when you experience triggers & warning signs?
listing support people: who will you call
when you experience triggers & warning signs?
Having a relapse prevention can make you and the people who
care for you feel more secure, even if you never have to use
Advance care directives
Because of the way schizophrenia works, if your symptoms worsen
at some time in the future, you may not be able to make good
decisions about your care. It can also be hard for the people
around you to know what’s best for you when the situation is
intense and confusing.
An advance care directive is your instructions for what you
want to happen if you can’t make your own choices, and who you
authorise to make decisions for you.
If you make an advance care directive, keep a copy somewhere
obvious and make sure the people close to you know about it.
Ask them to carry with them a simple summary of what to do and
where to call for help if needed — in their phones, for
Having an advance care directive makes it much easier on you
and the people who care for you if you ever need serious help.
You can find out more at Advance Care Planning
I often feel like I’m taking one step forward, ten steps
back, but when I take a step back at look at the big picture,
I can see how far I’ve come
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