New Method to Treat Schizophrenia Proves Effective

A recent landmark government-funded study showed that schizophrenic patients who received a combination of one-on-one therapy and less anti-psychotic medication shortly after their initial diagnosis demonstrated greater improvements in their mental health than previously thought.

The study, financed by the National Institute of Mental Health and published by the American Journal of Psychiatry Tuesday morning, is especially influential as Congress continues to debate mental health reform in the wake of the Umpqua Community College shooting. The study’s results indicate that those who participated in ‘talk therapy’ during the early onset period of schizophrenia were better functioning individuals, even while receiving a 20 percent to 50 percent fewer amount of anti-psychotic medication.

Researches analyzed 404 individuals, ranging from their late teens to early twenties, in 21 states who had experienced first-episode psychosis. They then divided them into two groups; one that received a combination of medication and therapy — such as talking back to voices in their head — while the other group only received medication. Both groups improved over the course of the two-year long study, but those combined therapy group more noticeably progressed.

Due to the fact that typical schizophrenic medication can cause severe side effects, such as extreme drowsiness or weight gain, many individuals stop taking the medication before completing their treatment. In a country that has taken little action to address recent concerns regarding mental illness, this study is critical towards achieving progress.

A 2013 study by the National Institute of Mental Health indicates that 18.5 percent of all U.S. adults suffered from a mental illness, with the figure rising to 21.4 percent for children ages 13 to 18. With so many citizens suffering from these illnesses, it is critical to provide complete and effective treatment for all those who need it.

Yet there has been little mental health reform to address this issue despite the fact that it is continually mentioned following school shootings. Some Congressmen, such as Gov. Paul LePage of Maine, believe that gun violence is so prevalent because the mentally ill have easy access to firearms. In the past, Congress, and particularly House Republicans, has used mental health reform as an alternative to changing gun control laws. However, some mental health advocates now feel that there is a shift in momentum towards the right direction.

“Those of us who want reform would be fools to ignore the political moment that exists,” said Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn, according to the Dallas Morning News.

Currently two bills are being discussed in Congress: a House measure proposed in 2013 by Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Pa., and a joint effort in the Senate led by Chris Murphy and Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La. Both bills would allocate more funding for mental health treatment, although they both currently lack a known cost. Regardless, the measures represent a step in the right direction, as the bill will be discussed during the first Senate hearing regarding mental health since the Sandy Hook shooting nearly three years ago.

Phone interview by Marina Pena