Schizophenia Meds Make Many Clients Worse
In the long-term, research shows that neuroleptics (antipsychotics) cause more harm than good for many clients diagnosed with schizophrenia. Their side-effect profiles and adverse event profiles are significant, and are dose and duration contingent. The following extract comes directly from the Director of the National Institute of Mental Health, Thomas Insel, published on August 28, 2013. It mirrors many of my sentiments and clinical observations over 40 years. We’ve got to do better than this!
“These medicines have been available for the treatment of psychosis for over half a century, beginning with the prototype first generation drug chlorpromazine (Thorazine) and now extending to some 20 different compounds, including several second-generation medications, often called “atypical antipsychotics.” Symptoms such as hallucinations, delusions, and paranoia are reduced reliably by these drugs.
“However, the long-term management of chronic mental illness is another matter. Recently, results from several studies have suggested that these medications may be less effective for the outcomes that matter most to people with serious mental illness: a full return to well-being and a productive place in society.
“In a study done in the Netherlands, about two-thirds of those who stopped their meds, reported significant improvement in symptoms at seven years. Second, 29 percent of the discontinuation group reported that they had also achieved a healthy outcome in work and family life—a number that should give hope to those struggling with serious mental illness. And finally, antipsychotic medication, which seemed so important in the early phase of psychosis, appeared to worsen prospects for recovery over the long-term.
“It appears that what we currently call “schizophrenia” may comprise disorders with quite different trajectories. For some people, remaining on medication long-term might impede a full return to wellness. For others, discontinuing medication can be disastrous. For all, we need to realize that reducing the so-called “positive symptoms” (hallucinations and delusions) may be necessary, but is rarely sufficient for a return to normal functioning. Neither first nor second generation antipsychotic medications do much to help with the so-called negative symptoms (lack of feeling, lack of motivation) or the problems with attention and judgment that may be major barriers to leading a productive, healthy life. Family education, supported employment, and cognitive behavioral therapy have all demonstrated efficacy in reducing the likelihood of relapse events, increasing the ability to function in daily life, and improving problem-solving and interpersonal skills.
“NIMH is supporting research on interventions that focus on a combination of approaches—symptom remission, family engagement, and functional recovery. The Recovery After Initial Schizophrenia Episode (RAISE) project combines low-dose medication with family psycho-education, supported education/employment, individual resilience training, and other interventions to focus on more than just the psychotic symptoms by combining current treatments, as done in RAISE, looks like a promising approach.
“We realize that for too many people, today’s treatments are not good enough. New, better treatments are essential if we are to improve outcomes for all – that is the promise of research. But in the meantime, we need to be thoughtful about the treatments we have. Clearly, some individuals need to be on medication continually to avoid relapse. At the same time, we need to ask whether in the long-term, some individuals with a history of psychosis may do better off medication. This is a tough call, where known risks need to be balanced against potential benefits. As the RAISE project has emphasized, shared decision-making between patients, families, and providers is essential for long-term management of psychotic disorders.
“These new data on the long-term outcomes for people with “schizophrenia” remind us that 100 years after defining this disorder and 50 years after “breakthrough” medications, we still have much to learn.”
National Institute of Mental Health, Director’s Blog (August 28 2013). Thomas Insel. Antipsychotics: Taking the Long View