The Serious Risks Faced by People with Schizophrenia

How managing schizophrenia can reduce these risks.

For those diagnosed with schizophrenia, the risk of dying prematurely is eight times higher than the general population.

It’s long been a stereotype with an unfortunate underlying nugget of truth: that people with schizophrenia are more prone to violence and suicide. A large study from Sweden is giving us a better sense of just how common those tragic events really are. And the bad news is, they’re increasing.

The study, appearing in The Lancet Psychiatry, looked at more than 25,000 people diagnosed with schizophrenia or a related disorder over the span of nearly four decades, from 1972 to 2009. To see how often these patients committed suicide, violent crimes or died prematurely, the researchers compared them with siblings who didn’t have schizophrenia, as well as more than 485,000 people from the general population.

The researchers found that within five years of diagnosis, one in 50 people with schizophrenia committed suicide, and one in 10 men committed a violent offense. For all those diagnosed, the risk of dying prematurely was eight times higher than the general population. Worse, the rates of self-harm and violence increased over the course of the 38-year study, while hospitalizations for inpatient care declined (though the study can’t prove that the two are linked).

Although these risks were “substantially” higher in people with schizophrenia, the researchers went on to note that most people diagnosed with it or a related illness aren’t suicidal or violent. In fact, the best predictors in the study were self-harm, criminal behavior and drug use before diagnosis.

Managing Your Schizophrenia

Studies like this call attention to the need for more intensive symptom management in people who are showing signs of violent behavior and self-injury. And although mental health has a long way to go in demystifying schizophrenia, if you or someone you know is living with the condition, here’s what you can do to manage it on a daily basis:

Consistently take your medication. Your prescribed medication can help to ease, and in some cases, eliminate your symptoms, making you better equipped to navigate your daily life.

Regularly attend psychotherapy sessions. This gives you an opportunity to voice your concerns, fears and thoughts to a professional who’s in place solely to help you. It can help you to identify relapse warning signs, learn coping techniques and help your therapist get a better feel for the progression of your condition and better craft a personalized treatment plan.

Get involved with a support group. Foster a group of people around you who intimately understand schizophrenia in a way that people not affected by the condition might not be able to do. Speaking to others can help reduce your stress and potentially help you to recognize when you need to seek out more intensive help. Support groups are also a great resource for information on things like job training that can help you to be more integrated into the world around you.

Know what to do in a crisis. If you have schizophrenia and are thinking of hurting yourself, you can take several steps to get help:

  1. Call 911 for immediate help in a crisis situation.
  2. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-TALK.
  3. Contact your mental health care provider.
  4. Call a friend or relative to come over to keep you safe.

Medically reviewed in April 2020.

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