A study funded by the National Institute of Mental Health reports schizophrenia patients who received smaller doses of antipsychotic drugs and a stronger focus on one-on-one therapy, coupled with family support, made substantially more progress over the first two years of treatment than patients who received the typical drug-focused therapy.
This more intimate approach was partially based on programs in other parts of the world — like Australia and Scandinavia — that have improved patients’ lives for decades. The study makes its way for the first time to the United States — to the “real world,” as researchers described it — meaning it was delivered through the existing infrastructure, by community health centers.
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Findings of the study have already found its way to government agencies.
On Friday, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services published a steady endorsement of the combined-therapy approach. Mental health reform bills that are now being circulated in Congress “mention the study by name,” according to Dr. K Heinssen, director of services and intervention research at the centers who also oversaw the study.
The study has received acclaim for its breakthrough, with several doctors praising its results.
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Dr. William T. Carpenter, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Maryland, said, “I’m very favorably impressed they were able to pull this study off so successfully, and it clearly shows the importance of early intervention.”
Dr. Mary E. Olson, assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, said, “These are zeitgiest ideas, and I think it’s thrilling that this trial got such good results.” Olson has worked to promote approaches to psychosis that are less reliant on drugs. She said that the combined treatment was similar to Open Dialogue, a Finnish program developed in the ‘80s.
Schizophrenia is typically treated with strong doses of antipsychotic drugs — called antipsychotics — but they leave vulnerable side effects in their wake. Some of these side effects include weight gain, muscle spasms or tremors, and blurred vision.
While antipsychotics work well for the most part, people who have taken them find that their side effects — whether weight gain or extreme drowsiness — are difficult to live with. Studies show that nearly three quarters of people with prescribed medications for the disorder stop taking them within a year and a half due to these side effects.
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