Happiness and Mental Illness

That might sound like a silly question. Of course having a mental illness is going to lower life satisfaction.

But how much? Does having a mental illness doom you to never enjoying life?

In a study published earlier this month, researchers from University of Toronto asked exactly that, although they phrased it in slightly more scientific terms. They looked at 75 young adults with schizophrenia and 75 without the disorder, hoping to gain insight into how schizophrenia affects overall happiness and life satisfaction.

While the life satisfaction scores were indeed lower on average  for those with schizophrenia, there was still a lot of overlap between between the two groups, and many of the participants with schizophrenia reported being quite happy.

Summarizing the results, the researchers wrote that “many young people with schizophrenia do, in fact, endorse high levels of subjective well-being” – which, of course, is just an academic way of saying that yes, people with schizophrenia can be happy too.

The results echo those of previous research in which about half of participants with schizophrenia reported high levels of life satisfaction. Many of these happy participants were experiencing moderate to severe symptoms and severe impairments, suggesting that being happy while having a mental illness doesn’t necessarily depend on making symptoms go away or even reaching a high level of functioning.

So what does it depend on? That’s a question that hasn’t been answered very thoroughly yet because it’s a lot easier to say how happy someone is than to say why they’re happy.

However, one study of patients with schizophrenia found that higher levels of self-stigma significantly predicted lower levels of quality of life. Another study found that patients with lower levels of self-stigma had more meaning in their lives. It’s possible that acceptance is one of the keys to happiness when living with mental illness.

When it comes to life satisfaction and mental illness, it may be that even the small things make a difference. For example, some work has suggested that interventions aimed at helping schizophrenia patients develop their sense of humor can lead to better outcomes.

So while researchers still haven’t discovered the key to happiness (that might take them a while), they have discovered that happiness is possible. Research has shown that the impairments associated with mental illnesses like schizophrenia are all too real, but also that a satisfying life is possible in spite of these impairments.

Image: FreeImages.com/Sebastian Schaeffer