Schizophrenia is one of the most well-researched mental health conditions. Various studies have looked in depth at the genetic underpinnings of the disorder, the cognitive traits associated with it, and the most effective treatment options.
Some scientists, though, have asked a simpler question: are people with schizophrenia happy?
There’s no doubt that having schizophrenia can make it much harder to do things that people without mental health conditions take for granted like having a job and maintaining social connections. But do these impairments necessarily translate into lower happiness?
As it turns out, the answer is no. Several studies have found that having schizophrenia doesn’t preclude people from also having high levels of happiness.
Most recently, researchers at University of Toronto recruited groups of people with and without schizophrenia, then looked at these people’s levels of happiness and of “life satisfaction and success,” a measure of how well they function. As you might expect, the people without schizophrenia had higher average scores on life satisfaction and success – they tended to be higher functioning.
But when it came to people’s scores on happiness, the researchers failed to find any meaningful difference between the two groups. Even though the people with schizophrenia scored lower on life satisfaction and success, they didn’t appear to be less happy. As the authors of the paper said, it appears that “functional status does not dictate whether an individual with schizophrenia experiences a sense of happiness, satisfaction or success in life.”
Other studies have generally been consistent with this idea. For example, a 2012 study found that people with schizophrenia predictably experience more functional impairment than people without the disorder, but without having lower levels of happiness or life satisfaction.
Even studies that have found differences in happiness between people with and without schizophrenia have found that there is a lot of variability in happiness levels of both groups. In other words, even when they have lower levels of happiness on average, it’s by no means the case that all people with schizophrenia are as a rule less happy than people without schizophrenia.
One study that showed this pattern among young adults with schizophrenia concluded that “there exists marked overlap in individual scores between those with and without schizophrenia, demonstrating that many young people with schizophrenia do, in fact, endorse high levels of subjective well-being.”
A similar study suggested that “although happiness may be harder to achieve in the context of a serious mental illness, it nonetheless appears to be a viable treatment goal in schizophrenia.”
Clearly, these results are good news for people with schizophrenia. But they contain an important message for people with mental health conditions more generally: even when those mental health conditions interfere with your ability to function the way people without mental health disorders do, it’s entirely possible to build a happy, fulfilling life.
Image: Flickr/Alex Rozanski